Broadcast - Content Regulation  and  Advertisement

- Shri K.M.Paul

Former E-In-C& Actg.D.G. All India Radio

 

Background

Broadcasting is considered to be the most powerful mass communication media. It provides –Information; Education and Entertainment to masses in a most cost effective manner. As long as the broadcasting is with the Govt., the authenticity of information and the code of entertainment are unquestionable. The content planning and presentation often may not be very attractive, but it is never unauthentic, misguiding or deceiving. On the other hand when this power of  broadcast  media is in private hand, the programmes no doubt   often become more attractive, but many a times, unrealistic, far from being authentic, propagating public gambling;   misguiding and deceiving. 

 

A major part of the private TV news channels are occupied by unimportant sensational news concerning sex, violence, bollywood gossip, extra terrestrial stories, astrological predictions for destruction of earth and many superstitious religious practices, as gap fillers of daily programme schedule. Sometimes the same footage or the same matter is repeated no. of times before and after the commercial breaks just to kill time. This is very boring and deceiving. News content is planned from point of view of higher sale and hence more commercial benefits. Many a times news containing national developments, public education etc. are minimal. Prominence of this kind of programmes help aligning the society towards undesirable sensations, time killing unproductive recreations, instead of helping the society to move forward. This amounts to misuse of the most powerful mass media and adds to the long term degeneration of the human resource development.

 

It may be worthwhile to mention here one of the very good programme contents of private TV news channels. That is to focus on various serious social and administrative excesses committed, which otherwise remain unexposed. These excesses include – injustice inflicted on women in a family; excesses committed by police or other levels of administrative machinery on weaker sections; corruptions in govt. machinery; etc.    

 

Now when the power of the media is so high and its contents are so effective in influencing the masses of the country, there must be a very stringent content regulation in place. Only the Advertisement Code is not adequate. There should be an exhaustive Content Regulation Code. This is very important. It is very good that, as part of the democratic right, the private channels have been given the broadcast rights. But it must be kept in mind that they are handling a very sensitive tool of mass communication. Any type of wrong content may adversely affect the society causing great national damage.

 

It is true that in the present day’s context, Govt. alone can not do everything. For most effective management there should be ‘Public-Private Partnership’(PPP) in many of the national activities. But before involving the ‘Private’, Govt. must put an exhaustive regulatory framework and stringent rules in place for the broadcast content and appropriate advertisement code. This is necessary to ensure protection of public interests in terms of – correctness of information; authentic education; clean entertainment; standard viewing facility and fool proof  programme format.

 

Given below are some of these issues which will clarify the deficiencies that we still have in our programme contents and the prevailing advertisement code:

Channel Logo

The TV channel Logo are of different size in different channels. Many a times the logo unduly obstructs a considerable part of the video programme, which can otherwise be avoided. The placement of the logo is also not standardized. Sometimes it is located on the top right corner, sometimes on the top left corner and sometimes even found on the bottom corners. This type of random placement of logo causes inconvenience to the viewer in reading the channels during channel-change and channel-tuning.

 

The size of the channel logo should be standardized. This means that the logo  must be contained within given percentage of line length width-wise and within given no. of lines height-wise. The logo should preferably be transparent and placed in one fixed corner (say-top right corner) of the video frame, uniformly in  all channels. These are necessary to have minimum obstruction to the video content by the logo and to enable prompt reading of the channels during channel-change and channel-tuning.

 

Text and Graphics Overlay on Video

It has become a very common feature now, to show multiple texts and graphics display, overlaid on the video programme. It is not clear as to what percentage of the TV screen can be occupied by such text and graphic information. There is a ‘scrolling text’ at the bottom. Above that, there is a text message giving - Breaking News , Top News , Next Programme, etc.

 

On the top of that, the text meta-data concerning the video programme is displayed. In addition to all these, some advertisements in text/graphics form intermittently appear in different sizes at the top left side of the screen. These are the minimum overlays on the main video in almost all the channels. Most of the times, so many overlaid text and graphics crowding on the screen, not only obscure the main video to a considerable extent but also, are very disturbing for the viewer to concentrate on the main video programme. Sometimes even the video is dynamically squeezed in size- height-wise and width-wise creating space at the bottom and on the left side of the screen for additional advertisements. So many simultaneous overlaid text and graphics continuously changing on the screen, are too disturbing. Not only that; it often does not serve the purpose, as the viewer can not read so many  rapidly changing texts/graphics and at the same time give undivided attention to the main video programme.

 

There should be strict regulations and precise guidelines to quantify the limit of these disturbing programme features, ensuring comfortable viewing of the main programme.

 

Authenticity of Advertisement-Data

One of the major roles of broadcasting is to educate the masses and to inform them correctly. In no way it must misinform or misguide the people by disseminating incorrect and unauthenticated data. In the advertisements of a no. of face creams / soaps, it is said that the complexion could be made fair by use of the product for a specified no. of days. In the advertisements of health drinks, it is said that field experiment showed increase in height of children by specified inches in specified time period owing to use of the health drink. In advertisements of shampoo, specifically claims are made to have stopped the dandruff and falling of hair within specific period of use of the shampoo.

 

The question here is that, whether these specific quantified information and claims made by the advertising companies which have medical and health bearing for the masses, are at all authentic and certified by the agency empowered by the Govt. If it is not, then how the govt. is allowing the companies to misguide and misinform the country openly.  Large no. of  poor people are lured and misguided by such unauthenticated attractive advertisements and wasting their hard earned money.

 

This calls for immediate intervention of the Govt. to regulate such unauthenticated advertisements for the benefit of the masses so that the objective of broadcasting is not distorted in the name of freedom of airwave. This is a very important action on the part of Govt. towards preserving the interest of its masses and check the private companies from exploiting the countrymen using the powerful mass media of Broadcasting.

 

Deceiving Masses by Non-Transparent  Programme Format

TV Channels are now a days full of Reality Shows. These Shows regularly select the best performer and designate him/her as the champion of the country. When some one becomes a defacto national champion, he/she carries with  him /her a huge public sentiment. Obviously such a selection in the name of national championship, should be fair and  transparent. But in fact it does not appear to be so.

 

Selection is often by public voting. Whether the public votes are taken into account or not, crores of people are made to vote through SMS, for the huge commercial benefit of the TV Channels. Sometimes the no. of votes are announced and sometime the no. is not announced. Again, even if the no. of votes are announced, it remains to be verified whether the figure announced is real or fake. Who is the authority verifying the no. of vote? Is it the discretionary power of the Channel Director or Channel owner to select the national hero in the name of public voting (unauthenticated)? Since such a selection in the name of national hero, is connected with -  a huge public sentiment; tremendous amount of public recognition and huge commercial benefit - both for the participant and the company ; it is necessary that the Govt. must ensure the total transparency and fairness in the selection process by imposing appropriate regulations for public interests.

 

There are reality shows where the participants are carried through questions and gradual higher amounts of prize money. As an example let us say that a set of  five questions will carry through to the final prize money of Rs. Ten Crore. Here the format of programme should be such that the participant if successful in consecutive question- answers, should be able to reach the final question-answer within the total time span of the episode,for getting the final prize money of Rs. Ten Crore. In fact the major part of the total time of the show is consumed by different types of discussions and performances apart from long commercial breaks. As a result, the effective time left for questions and answers is inadequate to complete the five questions-answers. Thus the participant can never reach the final prize money of Rs. Ten CroreSecondly the questions are of very funny type. For example a question can be like this :“What percentage of Indians get so much irritated by the repeated telephone calls of their spouse, that they switch off their mobile phone?”. Now this being an unstandard question, it does not have any authenticated  correct answer. The channel also does not show on the TV screen the correct answer before the participant gives his answer. The channel declares its so-called correct answer only after the participant gives his answer. Here the channel can always deceive the participant by giving a different answer to be correct one and hence deprive the participant of the high prize money. This always happens when the participant is very near to the high amount of prize money. As a result of this non- transparent programme format , though the TV Channel publicises the maximum prize money as Rs. Ten Crore, it never has to give that amount. The channel has the flexibility to cut short the prize money for the participant at much lower level by manipulating the effective time for question-answer  as well as  by declaring the so called correct  unstandard answer which is different from the answer given by the participant.

 

This is the way of deceiving the participants by the TV Channel by their non-transparent programme format. Here the deception is of the order of crores of rupees. Now who is to safeguard the public interest against such an open public cheating ? Obviously it can only be Govt.  Govt. should bring up appropriate content regulations to check such open public cheating and maintain transparency in the programme format.

 

Conclusion:An independent Authority for regulation of broadcast contents and advertisements is of immediate necessity. It has to dynamically exercise its regulations with very clear vision and objective that the powerful mass media of broadcast is used for – correct information;  education and entertainment within established codes and that it is used to really empower the masses and not to misguide, misinform and deceive them for making commercial benefits of the channels or consequential higher revenue earning of the Govt.