Post-Mumbai, self-regulation guidelines for media unveiled (Lead)

December 18th, 2008 - 9:04 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) With visual media drawing the flak for coverage of the Mumbai mayhem and the government mulling an emergency protocol, India’s broadcasters association Thursday unveiled self-regulatory guidelines. These include no live reporting of hostage crises and blocking information which may help terrorists. The guidelines, billed as first big steps towards self-regulation, were formulated and unveiled by India’s News Broadcasters Association Thursday afternoon.

The guidelines for telecast of sensitive events come in the aftermath of the frenzied media coverage of the 60-hour terror strike in Mumbai which elicited widespread criticism from the public and the government, which even threatened to impose an emergency protocol.

Although the broadcasters’ forum started formulating such guidelines much before the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai, leading broadcasters were forced to quicken the process after the event.

The guidelines include a self-imposed restraint not to disclose details of hostages and withholding sensitive information on rescue operations.

The broadcasters have also been asked to avoid live contact with victims and with security personnel engaged in rescue operations in 26/11-like situations.

The guidelines urge broadcasters to exercise their judgment in not airing details of identity and number of hostages, and refrain from reporting or making comments that might provide publicity to terrorists.

“News related to armed conflicts and communal violence should be shown with public interest in mind,” the guidelines said.

The broadcasters have been asked to avoid unnecessary repetition of archival footage which may agitate the minds of viewers.

“Dignity of those who are killed should be kept in mind while such incidents are telecast,” the guidelines read.

Announcing the guidelines, Justice J.S. Verma, who headed the drafting committee, said self-regulation was “far more effective” than anything else, and stressed that these guidelines were the “first big step” in the direction of self-regulation.

“The judiciary and the media have become powerful organs. Once you become powerful, you must know your limits,” Verma said.

“Self-regulation is a requirement which everyone who has considerable power must exercise. Nobody likes to be told what to do,” Verma told reporters while explaining the rationale for self-regulation guidelines.

“I am happy to say that there was spontaneous not only recognition but spontaneous acceptance by everyone and, therefore, I think it is the first big step in the direction of self-regulation that really is the purpose,” he said.

The guidelines were finalised Wednesday and are aimed at ensuring that the reporting of sensitive situations like the Mumbai attacks does not jeopardise the security of the nation and is not offensive to public taste.

The guidelines come at a time when the government is mulling an “emergency protocol”, and a broadcast code that strikes a balance between freedom of the press and societal concerns.

Some of the guidelines are similar to the advisories issued to TV channels by the information and broadcasting ministry during and after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Anand Sharma Thursday said in parliament that the government has constituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to look into the specific violations of programme and advertisement codes by the satellite channels at national level and to recommend action against them for such violation.

“Orders for constitution of the State and District Level Monitoring Committees have been issued in order to keep a close watch on content carried by the local cable TV channels at district or State level,” he told the Rajya Sabha.

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