India is a unique country in the world having no specific law pertaining to broadcast contents and advertisements. Liberalization of broadcast industry has broken the monopoly of government paving the way for hundreds of private players come in and also replacing statutory regulation to self-regulation.
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has permitted 825 channels out of which 670 are operational. There are around 136 pay channels and the remaining 507 are Free-to-Air. These channels are feeding contents and advertisements to the viewers round the clock. Commercial advertisements are the only source of revenue for Free to Air channels (FTA) while for pay channels it contributes a major chunk of revenue, which is much more than subscriptions. For getting more revenue from advertisers the broadcasters ‘unnaturally’ insert advertisements into the programmes disrupting its continuity. There is no uniformity in format, duration and timing of the advertisement across the news and non-news broadcasters.
Concerns have been expressed over the functioning of the broadcasters for inserting the advertisements unnaturally into the programmes. Most of the times the broadcasters, ignoring the guidelines, play, re-play and over-play commercial advertisements at crucial stages on TV channels breaking programme’s continuity while rendering the viewers irritated. Major advertisers purchase several slots to air commercials during a given time period and the same commercial is aired multiple times on a broadcast network. Sometimes it becomes impractical to distinguish between the programme and advertisements, due to their interchangeable format. A Centre for Media Study research says that the screen of news bulletin is, sometimes, so cluttered and overloaded that it becomes very difficult to distinguish as to which part of the screen is news, advertisement, opinion and accouchement. The audio level of advertisement is most of the time higher than the programme in order to have the viewers’ attention.
The existing provision abides the broadcasters to use maximum 12 minutes per hour for ads – 10 minutes for commercial ads and 2 minutes for self-promotional – but who cares?
The viewers are aggrieved more when the pay channels, which have little justification of airing the ads repeatedly, feed advertisement like FTA channels. A layman believes these news and non-news channels are less accountable to people and less democratic to the nation. The absence of statutory regulation instills no fear among these broadcasters of being penalized. Observing the lack accountability of broadcasters, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper indicating to restrict and regulate the duration, frequency and timings of the advertisements, especially on pay channels.
The authority says the minimum time gap between two consecutive advertisement breaks may be 15 minutes and in case of movies there may be at the most 3 advertisement breaks with a minimum gap 30 minutes between consecutive breaks. In case of telecast of live events, the scheduling of the advertisements is more crucial. It also proposes that no FTA channels and pay channels shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes and 6 minutes/hour respectively. The 12 minutes of advertisements will not be in more than 4 sessions in an hour. It also proposes for only full screen advertisements. Part screen advertisements will not be permitted. Drop down advertisements will also not be permitted.
TRAI’s initiative to regulate advertisement indicates at restoring the values of television which has been an affordable medium of communication, education, information and entertainment and restricting it for transforming into a mere tool for pushing more and more commercial advertisements for marketing purposes.