Government mulls curbs on TV reporting post Mumbai

December 4th, 2008 - 5:28 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) The Indian government has expressed grave disquiet at the “irresponsible” coverage of television channels during the Mumbai siege by terrorists with cabinet ministers, security officials and many citizens clamouring for some curbs on “wanton reporting” that is said to have undermined the anti-terror operation, jeopardized national security and invaded citizens’ privacy.At several meetings attended by ministers, senior officials and political leaders, specific examples of ill-conceived and callous reporting were pointed out.

Well-known television anchors came in for flak for throwing ethical concerns to the winds by showing footage of commandos being airdropped on Nariman House, a local hub of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, at the risk to their safety, disclosing strategic details of the operation on live TV as well as hampering rescue operations and intruding into people’s grief, all for the sake of pumping TRP - television rating point that measures viewership and determines revenues of these channels.

One channel that gave platform to terrorists, by repeatedly broadcasting their demands and threats, has been served show-cause notice. Heads of several other channels have been spoken to, asking them to show restraint in their coverage and not to let anchors incite common people to vilify politicians or whip up mass hysteria against the system, a senior official said.

One minister has specifically pointed out how one channel, during one of its live programmes, allowed a well-known Bollywood personality to incite people not to pay taxes to the government, alleging that taxes were being used to beef up the security of politicians at the common man’s expense.

Another channel reporter was accused of hampering rescue operations and delaying the passage of ambulances ferrying the dead and injured before she could get an “exclusive” byte or snapshot.

Still another channel kept railing at temporary curbs put on live reporting at a crucial stage of the commando operation, saying it was a threat to press freedom.

With the media, particularly the electronic media, unable to draw up its own code of conduct and upholding the universally accepted media ethics regarding putting national interest and security over people’s right to know and boundaries of media inquisitiveness, the government is seriously considering banning the TRP system that is used as a industry benchmark for a channel or programme’s popularity by advertisers.

There is also a proposal to give more teeth to the Press Council of India, a quasi-judicial body with a power to adjudicate on media transgressions but not enforce them or penalize erring media.

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Anand Sharma has personally spoken to some channel heads and requested them to exercise restraint in their reporting.

A communication from the ministry to the channels has also requested them not to repeatedly air old footage of death, destruction, funerals and bloodshed from last week’s terror trauma as it not only defiles the dignity of the dead but affects viewers emotionally and psychologically.

A proposal to have a code of conduct for the media, particularly the electronic media, has been on the anvil for sometime since the ministry felt that many of the newly promoted private channels, who have been floated merely for commercial purposes, were not bound by any media ethics or journalistic values.

The government is, however, trying to evolve a consensus on this sensitive issue that will strike a balance between freedom of the press and societal concerns, Sharma told reporters last week after a meeting of channel heads.

The electronic media had agreed to come out with its own code of conduct but because of differences among themselves nothing finally was done.

“If we don’t do this ourselves, the government will be forced to impose something on the media, given the clamour for such a code now in the wake of the widespread criticism of the Mumbai reportage by sections of the electronic media,” Alok Mehta, editor of Nai Duniya and former president of the Editor’s Guild of India, told IANS.

He admitted that previous attempts to have such a code was unsuccessful because of lack of consensus among the stakeholders.

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