Saturday, April 6, 2013

Article on overdose of ads on TV Channels

The grounds on which broadcasters are opposing the regulation that
limits the advertisement duration on television channels have no

The grounds on which broadcasters are opposing the regulation that
limits the advertisement duration on television channels have no
One of the latest developments on the broadcast regulation front, and
important from the viewer's perspective, is the revised regulation on
the limitation of advertisements on television channels to 12 minutes
per clock hour.

In March 2012, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came
up with a detailed consultation paper on "Issues related to
advertisements in TV Channels." Two months later, it notified the
Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in
Television Channels) Regulations, 2012 (15 of 2012). However,
broadcasters challenged the TRAI regulation.

Revised regulation
TRAI then reconsidered the matter and, on March 22, 2013, notified a
revised regulation called Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of
Advertisements in Television Channels) (Amendment) Regulations, 2013.
This amended regulation retained a key provision of the principal
regulation, i.e., "no broadcaster shall, in its broadcast of a
programme, carry advertisements exceeding twelve minutes in a clock
hour. Explanation: The clock hour shall commence from 00.00 of the
hour and end at 00.60 of that hour (example: 14.00 to 15.00 hours)."

The broadcasting fraternity, led by the News Broadcasters Association
(NBA) and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), has vehemently
opposed TRAI's move. Last week, the broadcasters met the Union
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Manish Tewari, to
express their reservations. Mr. Tewari is reported to have said: "We
have encouraged the finding of a modus vivendi whereby the imperatives
of the consumer's value for money as well as the imperatives of their
revenue model can be balanced."

The broadcasters' main grounds of opposition are:

1) TRAI has no power to notify such regulations;

2) TRAI's regulation is against the fundamental rights guaranteed
under Article 19(1) (a) and (g) of the Constitution;

3) Advertising revenue is the lifeblood of the media and TRAI's
regulations were issued at a time when news channels are facing a most
unfriendly business environment, non-receipt of advertisements from
the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) and the low
level of digitisation in the country;

4) The regulations, if implemented, will force many news organisations
to shut down. With the General Election looming ahead, it would appear
that this is an attempt to muzzle the media by taking away its ability
to operate independently.

Let us analyse the arguments:

Firstly, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology vide
Gazette Notification No. 39, dated January 9, 2004, notified the
"Broadcasting Services and Cable Services to be Telecommunication
Services." The duration of advertisements carried during programmes on
TV channels is closely related to the quality of viewing experience of
consumers. The quality of viewing experience is akin to the "quality
of service" provided by the service providers to consumers, which can
very well be regulated by TRAI. This clearly shows that TRAI has the
necessary powers to regulate the duration of advertisements on TV
channels. Perhaps, this is the reason why the Telecom Disputes
Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) also allowed TRAI to have a
second look into the matter and did not strike down the latter's
original regulation.

Second, and most important, the cap on advertisement duration to 12
minutes per hour is already a part of an existing Advertisement Code,
i.e., Rule 7(11) of the Cable Network Regulation Rules, 1994. It
reads: "no programme shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes
per hour, which may include up to 10 minutes per hour of commercial
advertisements, and up to 2 minutes per hour of a channel's
self-promotional programmes." TRAI's revised regulation doesn't
disturb this existing statutory position and only adds that "hour"
means "clock hour" and proposes to enforce the said rule.

It is indeed surprising to see the response of the broadcasters that
TRAI's regulation will affect their business/revenue models. The
"10+2" rule has been in force for many years, so it is strange that it
has not already been factored into the revenue models of broadcasters.
If the rule was affecting their rights, why did they not challenge it
in court all this time? The TRAI regulation is being opposed because
it means the existing statutory stipulation will now be implemented
systematically. Before this, despite many complaints by viewers, the
I&B ministry played the role of a spectator, never taking any penal
action against erring broadcasters who blatantly violated the "10+2"
rule. But how could media houses presume forever, the Ministry's
"continued inaction" against their violations?

Further, while the broadcasters are talking about "control" of their
freedom of expression, is indiscriminate advertising to the extent of
35 per cent of prime time (even in pay channels) not a violation of
the basic rights of viewers, aside from being a statutory violation
under existing laws?

Third, the factors quoted by broadcasters' associations such as
economic slowdown, unfriendly business environment, non-receipt of
advertisements from DAVP, low level of digitisation in the country,
etc., may be reasons affecting broadcasters' revenues but they can't,
by any stretch of imagination, be cited as justification for
indiscriminate and limitless advertising by TV channels in the name of
freedom of expression and freedom to carry on trade or business.

A study conducted by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) on the
duration of advertisements in six major news channels over the last
four years found that on an average, around 35 per cent of the prime
time (7 p.m. to 11p.m.) of news broadcasters is just advertisements,
against the per hour limit of 20 per cent prescribed in the existing
rules. The maximum yearly average was found to be as high as 47.4 per

Global codes
Lastly, almost all countries with a free media have codes in place to
regulate the duration and scheduling of television advertisements. For
example, the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive of the
European Union which sets the limit of advertising for all channels to
be 12 minutes per hour, establishes the need to "protect the interests
of consumers as television viewers, particularly by ensuring they are
not exposed to excessive amounts of advertising which is also
detrimental to the viewing experience." But these international best
practices are conveniently ignored by the broadcasters in their
arguments. Media houses going to the extent of painting this
viewer-friendly regulation by TRAI as the government's attempt "to
muzzle the media" in view of the upcoming election is a deliberate
effort to obfuscate the debate.

TRAI has in fact dropped many other key provisions that were a part of
the original regulation such as prohibition of part-screen
advertisements during programmes and the audio level of advertisements
not to be higher than the audio level of programmes. (These are other
violations of the code relating to advertisements on TV, presently
going on unchecked.)

If broadcasters feel they have a genuine case — that the present
statutory cap on advertisement duration is impacting their interests
adversely — they can pressure the government (not TRAI) to amend the
extant Rule 7(11) of Cable Network Regulation Rules, 1995 so as to
increase the present cap of 12 minutes further, say, to 15 minutes.
Instead, the broadcasting fraternity's blanket opposition to the TRAI
regulation, based purely on business considerations, is unwarranted.
It not only shows its disregard for the relevant legal provisions
presently in force but also its disrespect for the due rights of
millions of TV viewers in the country.

(Edara Gopi Chand is vice-president, MediaWatch-India, a civil society
initiative to promote decency and accountability in the media — Email:

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