India: Framework For Content On Television


The content on television ("TV") is presently regulated by a number of regulations and self-regulatory mechanism. From the regulatory perspective, the content on TV is broadly divided into news and current affairs, non-news and current affairs (entertainment) and advertisements. The content on TV is governed through statutory regulation as well as self-regulation for certain aspects.

In this article we have discussed some of the relevant provisions of the legal and regulatory framework currently in force in India with respect to content regulation on TV, covering programmes on non-news and current affairs TV channels, news and current affairs TV channels, advertisements, doordarshan and films on television.


The content on non-news and current affairs channels is governed by a statute and committees formed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ("MIB"). Further, certain self-regulations have also been framed by industry bodies.

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the rules thereunder:

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 ("Cable Act") defines 'programme' to include advertisements as well and thus advertisements would also be governed by the Cable Act.

The Cable Act mandates that all programmes telecast on TV channels and transmitted or retransmitted through the cable TV network, must adhere to the Programme Code and Advertising Code (collectively "Codes"). These Codes have been prescribed under the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 ("Cable Rules") and provide for a list of parameters to regulate programmes and advertisements on Television.

Programme Code

The Programme Code prohibits the carriage of programmes which amounts to criticism of friendly countries, attack on religions or communities, obscenity, defamation, contempt of court, affects integrity of the nation, encourages superstitions and denigrates women or children. Further, any content generally not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and contravening the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 is also prohibited.

Advertising Code

The Advertising Code specifically prohibits carriage of advertisements which offend morality, decency or religious sentiments of the public; or ridicule any race, caste, colour, incite the public to commit crime, denigrates women. Further, it requires advertisements to conform to other applicable central and state legislations.

Inter-Ministerial Committee

The MIB has constituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee ("IMC") to look into the violations of the Codes. The IMC may initiate action either suo moto or whenever a violation is brought to the notice of the MIB.

Electronic Media Monitoring Centre

The MIB established the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre ("EMMC") for effective monitoring of content of various TV channels for violation of the provisions of the Codes, Cable Act, Cable Rules or any other laws of India. The EMMC monitors channels and reports violations to a committee of the MIB for scrutiny, which then examines the purported violations and forwards its findings to the IMC for further action.

State-level and District-level Monitoring Committees

State-level Monitoring Committees ("State Committees") and District-level Monitoring Committees ("District Committees") have been constituted by the MIB to enforce the Cable Act. The MIB has clarified that in case of a complaint concerning content carried locally, the District Committee itself may decide whether the same constitutes a violation or not. Whereas, in case the complaint pertains to national or regional satellite channels, the District Committee may forward its recommendations to the IMC, through the State Committee.

Self-Regulatory Bodies for Regulation of Programmes - Indian Broadcasting Foundation

Indian Broadcasting Foundation ("IBF") adopted the Self-Regulation Guidelines for General Entertainment and Non-News and Current Affairs TV channels ("Self-Regulation Guidelines") and the Content Code and Certification Rules 2011 ("Content Code") for the broadcasting sector. The guidelines are applicable to all non-news broadcast programmes on TV, regardless of the media of transmission, which could be cable, terrestrial, satellite, Direct to Home (DTH), Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), Mobile or Headend in the Sky (HITS) operators. The guidelines, however do not cover films or any other production, which requires a certificate under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

The Self-Regulation Guidelines and Content Code set out principles, guidelines and ethical practices to guide the service providers to conform to the Programme Code. The Self-Regulation Guidelines provide that care and sensitivity should be observed to avoid offending the audience and reasonable steps are to protect minors.

The Self-Regulation Guidelines provide for setting up a 'Standards and Practices Department' at the individual TV channel level to deal with the complaints received for content aired on its channels. Further, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council ("BCCC") has been established at the industry level. A complaint may be filed against any programme broadcast on any TV channel within 14 days from the first broadcast. The BCCC may also initiate suo moto proceedings against any programme broadcast on a non-news and current affairs TV channel.


The content on news and current affairs channels is not governed by any specific statute and is rather self-regulated by code of conduct and regulations framed by an industry body.

News Broadcasters Association

The News Broadcasters Association ("NBA") is a self-regulatory association representing the 'news and current affairs' broadcasters. The NBA has formulated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards ("NBA Code"). The NBA Code provides for the principles to be adhered to by the news channels. It emphasizes that the news channels operate as trustees of public and must recognize the special responsibility in their operations. Further, the NBA Code lays down that the broadcasters shall ensure that they do not select news for the purpose of either promoting or hampering either side of any controversial public issue.

News Broadcasting Standards Regulations

The NBA also laid down the News Broadcasting Standards Regulations ("NBSR"), under which it constituted the News Broadcasting Standards Authority ("NBSA") as the disputes adjudication body and to enforce the NBA Code. The NBSA functions to ensure the compliance of the NBA Code by broadcasters, television journalists and news agencies. The NBSA is required to improve the standards of broadcast and the independence of broadcasters. However, the jurisdiction of the NBSA is restricted only to members of NBA.


The advertisement content is not governed by any specific statute and is self-regulated by the code of conduct framed by an industry body as well as other applicable central and state legislations.

Advertising Standards Council of India 

In the absence of a statutory framework, advertisements are regulated by a self-regulatory organization, Advertising Standards Council of India ("ASCI") which has prescribed a code for self-regulation ("ASCI Code"). The ASCI functions to ensure the truthfulness of representations and claims by advertisements and ensures that advertisements are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public decency. It is necessary for the advertisers to ensure that advertisements conform to the ASCI Code.

The ASCI also safeguards against indiscriminate use of advertising for promotion of products, hazardous to society or individuals or those which are unacceptable to the society at large.

Laws impacting advertisements

Besides the ASCI Code, Cable Act and Cable Rules, certain provisions regulate the form or content of an advertisement. Legislations such as Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940; Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954; Emblems and Names Act, 1950; Patents Act, 1970; Trademarks Act, 1999 and Copyright Act, 1957 etc. contain provisions having an impact on advertisements relating to the subject matter of these legislations. The ASCI Code and machinery is intended to complement legal controls and not to usurp such other provisions of law.

Limits on duration of advertisements

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ("TRAI") has issued the Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels) Regulations, 2012, which caps the time for advertisements. An ad-cap has been placed on broadcasters limiting advertisements to 12 minute per hour. However, these regulations have been challenged and the matter is presently sub juidice.


Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990

The Prasar Bharati, a Government of India undertaking has been established under the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990 ("PB Act"). The Prasar Bharati operates a number of channels under the umbrella of 'Doordarshan'. The PB Act prescribes that it shall be the primary duty of Prasar Bharati to conduct public broadcasting services to inform, educate and entertain the public and to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on TV.

Broadcasting Council

The PB Act also provides for establishment of Broadcasting Council, to receive and adjudicate complaints regarding a programme for contravention of any of the objectives for which the Prasar Bharati has been established. The Broadcasting Council is also to advise the Prasar Bharati in the discharge of its functions. However, the Broadcasting Council has not been constituted till date.

Code of Conduct

Doordarshan has its own code of conduct relating to broadcasting, social objectives and advertisements for production, transmission and telecast of programmes on Doordarshan.

The All India Radio and Doordarshan Broadcasting Code is applicable on the programmes transmitted on Doordarshan and prohibits criticism of friendly countries; attack on religions or communities; obscenity; defamation; incitement to violence; anything against maintenance of law and order; anything amounting to contempt of court; and anything affecting the integrity of the nation etc.

Further, general rules for commercial advertising on Doordarshan have been set-forth in its own code of conduct for advertising, which provides that no advertisement shall be accepted in case it violates the All India Radio and Doordarshan Broadcasting Code.


Certification of Films

The Cinematograph Act, 1952 ("Cinematograph Act") provides for the constitution of the Central Board of Film Certification ("CBFC") and the certification of cinematograph films for public exhibition by the CBFC. In India, cinematograph films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they have been certified by the CBFC.

The certification process of films is carried out by the CBFC in accordance with the provisions of the Cinematograph Act and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 ("Cinematograph Rules") and other guidelines issued by the Central Government, from time to time.

The Cinematograph Act provides that the films are to be certified under the following four categories:

  1. Unrestricted Public Exhibition – Certificate 'U'
  2. Restricted to Adults – Certificate 'A'
  3. Unrestricted Public Exhibition but with a word of caution that parental discretion required for children below 12 years of age – Certificate 'UA'
  4. Restricted to any special class of persons – Certificate 'S'

Telecast of films on TV

All TV channels are required to adhere to the Cable Act and the Cable Rules. Since, a film is covered within the ambit of 'programme'; thus, telecast of films on TV shall have to be in accordance with provisions of the Programme Code. The Programme Code provides that no film, film song, film promo, film trailer, music video, albums or their promos shall be carried through the cable service in India unless the same has been certified by the CBFC as suitable for unrestricted public exhibition in India. This restriction is applicable on telecast of productions outside India as well. Thus, films with an 'A' Certificate cannot be telecast on TV without recertification of films after appropriate modifications.


Considering the above it can be understood that the framework for the regulation of content on TV comprises of (i) statutory enactments; (ii) self-regulatory mechanism; and (iii) code of conducts framed by various industry bodies for regulating certain aspects.

The self-regulatory mechanism has been prescribed by various industry bodies and associations and besides prescribing code of conduct, the mechanism also provides for establishing complaint redressal mechanism at different levels.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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