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Beware cable channels! Big brother is watching - Sathish - 12-22-2009

MUMBAI: Following the directives of the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the Maharashtra government on December 16, constituted a state -level monitoring committee to deal with complaints and also examine the content aired by private television channels as well as cable operators.

An official from General Administration Department (GAD) of the state government said, "The state-level committee, to be headed by secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, will have the power to recommend action and forward complaints against satellite channels to the ministry through the chief secretary of the state in cases of violation of government of India's orders on programme and advertising codes.''

The state-level committee, will primarily monitor the work of the district- level monitoring committee, headed by the district magistrate or the police commissioner. "The state panel will ensure that the district committee has been formed according to the directives of ministry of information and broadcasting. It will deal with complaints referred by the district panel;examine decisions, besides providing the lower committee with suggestions and guidance.''

The panel will meet at least once a year and submit a detailed annual report for the state, including district-wise data of cable operators registered within the state and estimated number of TV homes/viewers in the state to the ministry before December 31, every year, the official added.

Apart from dealing with cases of objectionable and inflammatory content, the committee, both, at the state and district level, will tackle complaints about `non-carriage' of the free-to-air channels of Doordarshan, transmission of pay channels on cable television without the use of set-top boxes (addressable system) in areas notified for compulsory conditional access system (CAS) and charging fees in CAS areas, which is higher than that fixed by TRAI.

The ministry had directed the states to form such committees as officials claimed that an increasing number of petitions were being received from viewers about malpractice by cable operators and undesirable content being shown at the local level by the operators. An order issued by the I&B ministry in February 2008 noted that the enforcement of the said Act in many parts of the country was still not satisfactory either because of the lack of clear understanding of the role to be played by the district monitoring committees or a suitable mechanism to enforce the provisions of the Act.

During the review of the functioning of the district and state level monitoring committees, it was observed that many of the states/UTs had not constituted state and district level monitoring committees, others are yet to do so, the ministry observed.

The state committee will be headed by secretary, information and public relations and will comprise a non-government organisation working for the cause of women and representative of the director-general of police. It will also have secretaries of social welfare and women and child development departments, besides directors of Doordarshan and of the information and public relations department.