New Delhi: Leading electronic channels on Saturday criticised the government for a change in the rule regarding renewal of licenses for TV channels.

The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) alleged the Union Cabinet decision that channels found guilty of violating Programme and Advertisement Code on five occasions or more would not be eligible for renewal of licenses was aimed at controlling the media.

Channels have to renew their licenses after every ten years.

Government sources, however, downplayed the BEA concerns claiming there were provisions in existing laws under which action could be taken against channels even for a single violation.

Reacting sharply to the cabinet decision, the BEA said "that across all democratic nations, governments have no role in issues pertaining to content. The Indian Constitution clearly restricts the government from assuming any such role."

The BEA demanded in a press release that the government immediately roll back the new norms.

"With new norms, government is trying to control an otherwise independent electronic media by sending a subtle message that their permission to uplink can be withdrawn should they not ‘behave’," the BEA claimed.

 “Can content be left to the wisdom of the bureaucrats in a democracy?” the BEA said in its press release.

The "net result of the new norms would be that an officer of the government can question an individual channel on content for four times on one pretext or the other and finally threaten that channel of non-renewal, should it not fall in line", it said.

Responding to BEA's concerns over action by the government, a senior official said "it is not arbitrary and a committee, which includes an Additional Secretary of the I&B Ministry and Joint Secretaries of several other ministries like Defence, Home, Women and Child Development, Social Justice decides on violations".

"So, if there are repeated violations, should they not lead to anything?" the official said.

The BEA, however, claimed the move "is an attempt to undermine the landmark steps that the electronic media has taken towards self-regulation."

Almost all major national news channels are members of the BEA.

(Agencies)