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Supreme Court Dismisses PILs Seeking TV News Channel Regulation Guidelines: “If You Don’t Like Them, Don’t Watch Them

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SUPREME COURT LAW INSIDER

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Published on: 08 August 2023 at 22:12 IST

The Supreme Court of India has rejected two petitions that aimed to establish guidelines for the regulation of television news channels and the creation of an independent board or media tribunal to address content-related grievances on these channels.

The bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol emphasized that viewers have the autonomy to choose not to watch channels they find objectionable. The court underscored the importance of maintaining freedom of speech and expression within the industry.

Justice Oka articulated, “If you don’t approve of these channels, you have the option not to view them. Misrepresentation is often a matter of perspective. Doesn’t freedom of expression exist? Even if we were to eliminate media trials, how can we control the internet and similar platforms? How can we fulfill such requests? Who takes these matters seriously? Opting not to engage with television content is also a form of freedom.” He further noted that those who find TV content offensive have legal avenues for recourse.

The court’s stance came in response to two public interest litigations (PILs). One of these PILs, initiated by lawyer Reepak Kansal, urged the establishment of an independent regulatory body to address sensationalized reporting by news broadcasters.

Kansal argued that sensational coverage driven by the pursuit of viewership often tarnishes the reputation of individuals, communities, and religious or political entities. He maintained that such content has even incited public violence.

The second PIL, filed by filmmaker Nilesh Navalakha and activist Nitin Memane, called for the creation of a ‘media tribunal’ to promptly adjudicate complaints against media networks and TV channels.

This petition criticized the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for failing to enforce the Programme Code, which governs the conduct of television channels.

The bench, while dismissing the primary plea, remarked that the prayers outlined in the PILs were overly broad. It also highlighted the presence of a committee led by a retired judge that addresses related concerns.

For the matter concerning the establishment of a media tribunal, the bench encouraged the petitioner’s counsel to approach the relevant High Court, indicating that not all matters need to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court.

This development follows a previous instance where another bench of the Supreme Court expressed reservations about the operations of mainstream television news channels.

The court pointed out that these channels often amplify hate speech without facing consequences, emphasizing that their pursuit of sensational news contributes to societal divisions.

In summary, the Supreme Court’s recent dismissal of the PILs seeking regulation guidelines for TV news channels underscores the importance of individual choice in media consumption and the complexities involved in imposing regulations without impinging on freedom of expression.