India: SC Sees The Humor - Grants Stay On Delhi HC Ban On 'Comedy Central' Channel

Last Updated: 9 December 2014
Article by Aaron Kamath, Kartik Maheshwari and Khushboo Baxi
  • 'Comedy Central' channel violates Programme Code twice. Admits fault but pleads that matter be heard by BCCC and that ban imposed by MIB is disproportionate.
  • Prohibition of transmission / re-transmission of the channel on any platform throughout the territory of India. Effective from November 26, 2014.
  • Division bench of the Delhi HC deems the ban to be proportionate & does not interfere with the ban imposed by the MIB Inter-Ministerial Committee.
  • Supreme Court lifts the ban imposed on the channel and permits it to telecast effective November 28, 2014.
  • Constitutionality of various provisions of the Cable Television Networks Act, 1996 challenged before the Supreme Court. Matter to be heard on December 8, 2014.


A division bench of the Delhi High Court ("Court"), in Viacom18 Media Private Limited & Anr. ("Viacom18") v. Union of India ("Respondent")1, upheld the order of the Single Judge dismissing the writ petition filed by Viacom18 against an order of the Inter-Ministerial Committee ("IMC") of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ("MIB") imposing a penalty on Viacom18. The order of the MIB ("MIB Order"), in view of Viacom18's violation of various provisions of the Cable Television Networks Act, 1996 ("Act") and the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 ("Rules"), prohibited transmission / re-transmission of the 'Comedy Central' ch annel on any platform throughout the territory of India for a period of 10 days.

The ban was made effective from November 26, 2014 for a period of 6 days (with 4 days already having been served by Viacom18). However, the Supreme Court of India ("Supreme Court"), on November 28, 2014, admitted a Special Leave Petition filed by Viacom18 and granted a stay on the Court's ban imposed on Viacom18.2 As a result, the 'Comedy Central' channel went back on air on November 28, 2014.


Viacom18 is the parent company of 'Comedy Central', a 24 hour entertainment channel that telecasts comedy content in English. Viacom18 was granted approval for uplinking / downlinking of 'Comedy Central' on August 26, 2011 and was, consequently, bound to adhere to the Programme Code prescribed under the Rules.3

Show Cause Notice for First Violation

The Respondent was of the view that the programme 'Stand Up Club'4 telecast on May 26, 2012 on 'Comedy Central' was not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and children as the same depicted women as a commodity of sex and appeared to deprave, corrupt and injure the public morality and morals. Pursuant to this, MIB issued a show cause notice to 'Comedy Central' on June 22, 2012 ("SCN 1") stating that the programme 'Stand Up Club' appeared to violate Rule 6(1)(a), Rule 6(1)(d), Rule 6(1)(k), Rule 6(1)(o)5 and Rule 6(5)6 of the Rules.

Viacom18 replied to the SCN 1 stating that it will comply with, inter alia, the self-regulation guidelines and all conditions of the uplinking / downlinking permissions. Viacom18 further stated that the MIB should have raised concerns with the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation ("BCCC") rather than directly with the broadcaster.

No representative of Viacom18 attended the hearing before the IMC (constituted to look into cases of violation of the Programme Code under the Act and Rules). Another opportunity was granted to Viacom18 to attend the hearing. Viacom18 submitted as follows:

  • An apology for the telecast of its programme 'Stand Up Club' and that it was due to unintentional genuine errors. A serious note of all concerns raised in the SCN 1 was taken as a preventive step. Repeat telecast of the episode in question was stopped and Viacom18 decided not to air episodes with similar content in the future.
  • Most of the contents of 'Comedy Central' are conceived, created and produced out of India. Although due process of content edit was carried out, inadvertently, edits were not carried out in the said episode before its telecast resulting in an operational mishap.
  • That they have shared a copy of the SCN 1 with the BCCC.
  • Assurance to continue strict compliance of the Program me Code and all applicable regulatory guidelines while airing programmes / shows on 'Comedy Central'.

Viacom18 admitted to violating provisions of the Programme Code, but requested the MIB to take a lenient view in the matter as it was Viacom18's first genuine mistake.

Show Cause Notice for Second Violation

Subsequently, Comedy Central telecast another programme 'Popcorn' on July 4, 2012 which was deemed by the MIB as vulgar, obscene and against good taste; and did not appear suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and children. MIB issued a show cause notice ("SCN 2") on October 10, 2012 to 'Comedy Central' stating that the programme 'Popcorn' appeared to violate Rule 6(1)(a), Rule 6(1)(d), Rule 6(1)(o) and Rule 6(5) of the Rules. Viacom18 provided a similar response as was provided to SCN 1.

MIB Order

Subsequent to proceedings initiated pursuant to the issue of SCN 1 and SCN 2, the MIB Order was passed imposing a penalty of prohibition of transmission / re-transmission of 'Comedy Central' on any platform throughout the territory of India for a period of 10 days with effect from 12:01 AM on May 25, 2013 to 12:01 AM on June 4, 2013. Though the penalty for each of the two violations was 10 days, the IMC recommended that the two be served concurrently.

It was further specified in the MIB Order that the BCCC found the said programme 'Stand Up Club' to be objectionable and subsequently issued a notice to 'Comedy Central'. In response, 'Comedy Central' apologized for airing the said programme and submitted that it was a genuine mistake. 'Comedy Central' provided an undertaking not to repeat the said episode and assured dropping of the episodes having similar content. BCCC further advised 'Comedy Central' to discontinue the said episode and to be cautious about airing programmes having similar content in the future.

The present case is an intra-court appeal from the order of the Single Judge of the Court dated May 24, 2013.7 This appeal arises from the writ petition ("Writ Petition") filed against the MIB Order. Owing to the fact that the Writ Petition was dismissed by the Single Judge, the MIB Order (dated May 17, 2013) came into force on May 25, 2013. 4 days of the ban had been served by Viacom18 during the appeal process.


Viacom18, in the Writ Petition filed before the Single Judge and to which the appeal arises, challenged the competence of the IMC to judge the violation of the Programme Code without consulting the BCCC which is a broad-based professional body and on the ground that the penalty imposed was disproportionate to the violation committed.


The Single Judge dismissed the Writ Petition on, inter-alia, the following grounds:

  • that consultation with the BCCC is not a requirement laid down in the Act; as per para 10.2 of the Policy Guidelines for Uplinking of Television Channels from India dated December 5, 2011, BCCC, an independent broad based body, needs to be consulted only for the purpose of determining whether the contents of any particular telecast constitute a violation of the Policy Guidelines or not and not while deciding the quantum of penalty to be imposed upon the offending channel;
  • that even otherwise the failure of the Respondent to consult the BCCC would not vitiate the decision taken, considering that on a reference by Viacom18 itself and after giving an opportunity of hearing granted to it, the BCCC also was of the view that the contents of the programme 'Stand Up Club' telecast on May 25, 2012 were objectionable.
  • that the Delhi High Court in Star India Private Limited v. Union of India8 also has held that absence of consultation with the BCCC would not by itself render the action illegal;
  • that the Court would not be justified in interfering with the decision taken by the MIB unless it is shown that the penalty imposed is so disproportionate to the violation committed by the channel as would shock the conscience of the Court or is a penalty which no reasonable person would impose for violation of such nature;
  • that considering the vulgarity of the contents of the programme and that the penalty of prohibition of telecast goes up to 30 days for the first violati on and up to 90 days for a second, the penalty imposed on Viacom18 could not be said to be excessive or unreasonable.


The Court observed that the Act was enacted in light of increased broadcasting of programmes which were predominantly western and alien to Indian culture, perceived by many people as a "cultural invasion." It was felt that there was a need to regulate the operations of cable television networks in India so as to bring uniformity in their operations, as it was also felt that subscribers, programmers and cable operators were unaware of their rights, responsibilities and obligations with respect to quality of service, technical as well as content-wise, use of material protected by copyright, exhibition of uncertified films etc.

The Court was of the opinion that Viacom18, engaged in a business / enterprise owing to its mass appeal / base, has the potential of influencing thought, behavior and conduct of citizens, especially the future citizens of the country.


The Court was in agreement with the decision and reasoning of the Single Judge and did not find any ground to interfere with the ban on transmission of the channel for 10 days imposed by the IMC.

The Court noted that Viacom18, during the pendency of proceedings for the first violation and while seeking pardon for the same, committed a second violation. This is clearly indicative that even if unintentional, Viacom18 took the matter of self-regulation very lightly. The Court was of the view that the punishment meted out is proportionate to the violations. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal and clarified that the balance period of 6 days of the penalty should come into force with effect from 12:01 am on November 26, 2014.


The Supreme Court, on November 28, 2014, granted interim relief to Viacom18 and lifted the ban imposed by the Court, and as a result, permitting telecast of the 'Comedy Central' channel. It, however, directed that programmes that were held to be offensive, i.e., 'Stand Up Club' and 'Popcorn', will continue to be prohibited from telecast on the channel.


At the very outset, it is pertinent to note that there was never any dispute between both the parties with respect to violation of various provisions of the Rules. Viacom18 conceded to violating the Programme Code. The primary contention of Viacom18 was that an unintentional operational mishap had been committed and that the punishment lashed out at them through the MIB Order was disproportionate.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation ("IBF") was set up in the absence of an independent and autonomous regulatory body by broadcasters as a self-regulatory body independent, autonomous, free from government intervention and free from influence of any one or more organizations9. The IBF issued Self-Regulation Guidelines for Non-News & Current Affairs Television Channels10 ("Guidelines") with the intention of embodying principles, guidelines and ethical practices, which should guide broadcasters in offering their programmes at the same time encouraging creativity in line with the evolving social milieu and acceptable community standards. The principles in these Guidelines is sought to be implemented, at the first instance, through a self-regulatory mechanism by 'forbearance', which should guide the BCCC whilst enforcing adherence with the Guidelines.

Since the BCCC was set up in consultation with the MIB so that the MIB would not have to issue show cause notices regarding content, it raises questions regarding the need and usefulness of the BCCC in totality. Specifically, while the powers of the MIB to prosecute channels for breach of the Programme Code were never in dispute, it was understood that broadcasters would internally resolve complaints and the MIB would not interfere with this process. The intention was always plain and simple - the MIB having minimal interference in respect of content coupled with the industry taking a pro–active and self-regulatory role.

While there is great scope for potentially overstepping one's freedom of speech and expression under the widely worded Programme Code, which was drafted in 1995, a greater pragmatic and proactive approach is encouraged from broadcasters. In examining where the line has been crossed, the MIB should exercise caution in interpreting and enforcing provisions of the Programme Code.

Importantly, this case comes on the back of the MIB moving towards prohibiting the broadcast of other channels for breach of the Programme Code11 as well as issuing orders towards strengthening of the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre ("EMMC"). The MIB, recently, issued a circular which requires all television channels to provide the Government with a monitoring facility, at the EMMC, for the purpose of monitoring content.12

Pursuant to the order of the Court, Viacom18 has approached the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of various provisions of the Act, arguing that these provisions amount to content control by the Executive.13 The matter is due to be heard on December 8, 2014. It will be interesting to observe whether the Supreme Court shares the sentiments of the broadcasters and leans in favor of self-regulation within the industry.


1.LPA 374/2013; decided on November 24, 2014

2.SLP (Civil) 32182/2014.

3.Rule 6 of the Rules prescribe the Programme Code

4.Viacom18 clarified in the response to SCN 1 that the name of the concerned programme was 'Comedy Central Presents' and not 'Stand Up Comedy'.

5.Rule 6. Programme Code.—(1) No programme should be carried in the cable service which—

(a) offends against good taste or decency;

(d) contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths;

(k) denigrates women through the depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman, her form or body or any part thereof in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals;

(o) is not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition.

6.Rule 6(5). Programmes unsuitable for children must not be carried in the cable service at times when the largest number of children are viewing.

7.W.P. (C) No. 3402/2013

8.185 (2011) DLT 519

9.Introduction, Statement Of Objects & Reasons & Preamble to the Guidelines

10.Available at: Last Accessed: November 28, 2014

11.DY 365 TV Channel, News Time Assam TV

12.This obligation has been placed on the channels pursuant to para 5.14 of the Policy Guidelines for Downlinking of Television channels, which requires the broadcaster / channel permission holder to provide monitoring facilities (at its own cost) for monitoring of content by the MIB when required. Our hotline on this may be accessed here.

13.SC stays Delhi high court order on Comedy Central ban. Available at: Last accessed: December 1, 2014

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Aaron Kamath
Kartik Maheshwari
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.