Media in India is mostly self-regulated. The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India which is a statutory body and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organization, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines. Recently, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. M. Katju, has argued that television and radio need to be brought within the scope of the Press Council of India or a similar regulatory body. We discuss the present model of regulation of different forms of media. This note was first published at Rediff. 1. What is the Press Council of India (PCI)? The PCI was established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. 2. What is the composition of the PCI and who appoints the members? The PCI consists of a chairman and 28 other members. The Chairman is selected by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member elected by the PCI. The members consist of members of the three Lok Sabha members, two members of the Rajya Sabha , six editors of newspapers, seven working journalists other than editors of newspapers, six persons in the business of managing newspapers, one person who is engaged in the business of managing news agencies, and three persons with special knowledge of public life. 3. What are its functions? The functions of the PCI include among others (i) helping newspapers maintain their independence; (ii) build a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies; (iii) help maintain “high standards of public taste” and foster responsibility among citizens; and (iv) review developments likely to restrict flow of news. 4. What are its powers? The PCI has the power to receive complaints of violation of the journalistic ethics, or professional misconduct by an editor or journalist. The PCI is responsible for enquiring in to complaints received. It may summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, demand copies of public records to be submitted, even issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist. It can even require any newspaper to publish details of the inquiry. Decisions of the PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a court of law. 5. What are the limitations on the powers of the PCI? The powers of the PCI are restricted in two ways. (1) The PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued. It cannot penalize newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists for violation of the guidelines. (2) The PCI only overviews the functioning of press media. That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media. It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and internet media. 6. Are there other bodies that review television or radio? For screening films including short films, documentaries, television shows and advertisements in theaters or broadcasting via television the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sanction is required. The role of the CBFC is limited to controlling content of movies and television shows, etc. Unlike the PCI, it does not have the power to issue guidelines in relation to standards of news and journalistic conduct. Program and Advertisement Codes for regulating content broadcast on the television, are issued under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The District magistrate can seize the equipment of the cable operator in case he broadcasts programs that violate these Codes. Certain standards have been prescribed for content accessible over the internet under the IT Rules 2011. However, a regulatory body such as the PCI or the CBFC does not exist. Complaints are addressed to the internet service provider or the host. Radio Channels have to follow the same Programme and Advertisement Code as followed by All India Radio. Private television and radio channels have to conform to conditions which are part of license agreements. These include standards for broadcast of content. Non-compliance may lead to suspension or revocation of license. 7. Is there a process of self regulation by television channels? Today news channels are governed by mechanisms of self-regulation. One such mechanism has been created by the News Broadcasters Association. The NBA has devised a Code of Ethics to regulate television content. The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), of the NBA, is empowered to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and fine the broadcaster a sum upto Rs. 1 lakh for violation of the Code. Another such organization is the Broadcast Editors’ Association. The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn up guidelines on content of advertisements. These groups govern through agreements and do not have any statutory powers. 8. Is the government proposing to create a regulatory agency for television broadcasters? In 2006 the government had prepared a Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006. The Bill made it mandatory to seek license for broadcasting any television or radio channel or program. It also provides standards for regulation of content. It is the duty of the body to ensure compliance with guidelines issued under the Bill.
Yesterday, the Governor of Karnataka promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022. The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions. A Bill with the same provisions as the Ordinance was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021. The Bill was pending introduction in the Legislative Council.
In the recent past, Haryana (2022), Madhya Pradesh (2021), and Uttar Pradesh (2021) have passed laws regulating religious conversions. In this blog post, we discuss the key provisions of the Karnataka Ordinance and compare it with existing laws in other states (Table 2).
What religious conversions does the Karnataka Ordinance prohibit?
The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or the promise of marriage. Any person who converts another person unlawfully will be penalised, and all offences will be cognizable and non-bailable. Penalties for attempting to forcibly convert someone are highlighted in Table 1. If an institution (such as an orphanage, old age home, or NGO) violates the provisions of the Ordinance, the persons in charge of the institution will be punished as per the provisions in Table 1.
Table 1: Penalties for forced conversion
Fine (in Rs)
Any person through specified means
Minor, woman, SC/ST, or a person of unsound mind
Two or more persons (Mass conversion)
Sources: Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022; PRS.
Re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion under the Ordinance. Further, any marriage done for the sole purpose of an unlawful conversion will be prohibited, unless the procedure for religious conversion is followed.
How may one convert their religion?
As per the Ordinance, a person intending to convert their religion is required to send a declaration to the District Magistrate (DM), before and after a conversion ceremony takes place. The pre-conversion declaration must be submitted by both parties (the person converting their religion, and the religious converter), at least 30 days in advance. The Ordinance prescribes penalties for both parties for failing to follow procedure.
After receiving the pre-conversion declarations, the DM will notify the proposed religious conversion in public, and invite objections to the proposed conversion for a period of 30 days. Once a public objection is recorded, the DM will order an enquiry to prove the cause, purpose, and genuine intent of the conversion. If the enquiry finds that an offence has been committed, the DM may initiate criminal action against the convertor. A similar procedure is specified for a post-conversion declaration (by the converted person).
Note that among other states, only Uttar Pradesh requires a post-conversion declaration and a pre-conversion declaration.
After the religious conversion has taken place, the converted person must submit a post-conversion declaration to the DM, within 30 days of the conversion. Further, the converted person must also appear before the DM to confirm their identity and the contents of the declaration. If no complaints are received during this time, the DM will notify the conversion, and inform concerned authorities (employer, officials of various government departments, local government bodies, and heads of educational institutions).
Who may file a complaint?
Similar to laws in other states, any person who has been unlawfully converted, or a person associated to them by blood, marriage, or adoption may file a complaint against an unlawful conversion. Laws in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh allow certain people (those related by blood, adoption, custodianship, or marriage) to file complaints, after seeking permission from the Court. Note that the Karnataka Ordinance allows colleagues (or any associated person) to file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.
*In Chirag Singhvi v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court framed guidelines to regulate religious conversions in the state.