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
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions