Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Media are obsessed with 3Cs: Crime, Cinema, and Cricket.

The other 2Cs: Conscience and Credibility has become backbencher.

It’s high time to bring up the bottom two Cs in the first two places. Or else, the Government will get another chance to dictate the private news channels.

According to NDTV chief Dr. Prannoy Roy “News Revolution has taken place in India within 35 years of its journey.” In the year 1969 Doordarshan started telecasting its first bilingual news bulletin.1982-Delhi Asiad (Asian Games) and 1983 Prudential World Cup (Cricket) gave television medium a never-before-seen popularity.

1989 was a landmark year for Doordarshan as, with ‘The World This Week” for the first time it opened up the door for the private companies to produce news-oriented current affairs programmes. Till then, government had full control over the news segment, no private organisation was allowed to contribute anything in general programming or in news broadcast.

Just within 20 years, India’s news space is cluttered with 100+ news and current affairs channels!


The characteristics of the channels too have changed. Now they don’t look down upon the people or take the audience for granted. They focus on inclusive journalism. They show more and more peoples’ story. It is exposing the corruptions; it is questioning the flawed systems. In this era of information boom, nothing can be covered up or can be hidden due to the omnipotent presence of media. Media are providing platform to people, their voices are being heard. Citizen Journalism is getting success like never before.

Precisely, People’s Media have become the fear factor for the government. The message that ‘government is good, so you should vote for it’ is no longer being conveyed to the mass through a single channel (Doordarshan). Thus the government wants to regulate the private news channels. In other words, it wants to put in place the proper propaganda mechanism. Other than news, who else can do that? Hence the Government wants a bigger filter system in guise of a Broadcast Bill.

In his book ‘Manufacturing Consent’ Noam Chomsky has stated, “In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control over the media, often supplemented by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the ends of dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest.”

Chomskyan argument can find a legitimate space on Indian soil as ‘no official censorship is exercised here!’ After the advent of the private news channels, there were several cases when the corruptions were unbuttoned, the government’s negligence was questioned, and elitist views were replaced with the pro-people attitude. Several times due to media expose’ government had to face some uncomfortable situations. Many a times its accountability was questioned.

Arguably, LPG (Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation) era has forced the Government monopoly to retreat. Media is one of the beneficiaries of Manmohan Singh’s Economic Reform of 1991. It has set the stage for cable TV and at a later stage, DTH has scripted the history of TV viewing in a different way.

Just rewind to 1995. NDTV (then a content provider) wanted to have a news magazine programme on DD. The day it was to be on air, a frantic phone call came from a senior official of I&B Ministry. He asked the channel authority ‘how could you carry this programme?’ it was a surprise as the channel had all the required clearance. Then the channel was explained, ‘other than government no one can be in the news domain. So no programme could be run with a tag called news.’ A compromise was made and it was rechristened as Tonight…!

The Government, which had such an attitude about the private news magazine programme just 14 years back, how could it accept so many news channels and their supremacy now?

Those days are gone when news meant Government and Ministers. Precisely that was Doordarshan Days! People used to see what government had wished them to show.

Government has lost the monopoly on news long ago. DD news is hardly followed by anyone now. News media have always played a role in forming the public opinion. If diverse channels come to operate, people are exposed to several views. These views ultimately translate into actions, sometimes against the government. Content regulation was never an issue; the issue was to take the total control of the private channels, so that the propaganda systems function smoothly.

Recently in an interview to CNN-IBN (18th October 2009) I &B Minister Ambika Soni has categorically stated, that Government is open to debate on Broadcast Bill. In her words, “What we are talking of is a mechanism. You may call it regulator. This is not a regulator in the sense of content control. I'm not looking at a regulator only to monitor content.” She added, “News Regulator is needed because you have got it wrong, believe it or not, Karan Thapar (news coverage during 26/11) has got it wrong. We don't want to put in place a regulator to monitor content-that is not the intention of the government at all.” But she didn’t make it clear whether content is excluded from monitoring. She added, “You know what happened after 26/11. The NBA and the Editors Association have asked me to administer, to help facilitate an empowered group on behalf of the Government which they could access in times of an emergency.”

This statement came at a time when top editors have pitched-in for self regulation. They have met Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and all the political top brass across party lines to stop government from bringing in this Draconian Code. Government proposals have only few takers. Thus, the government was forced to think again. PM himself has assured the broadcasters that the bill will be passed only after the ‘consensus.’

If I accept the argument of Ms Soni, then the question is why in a democratic set-up government regulation is needed? If 26/11 was the real concern and the government wants certain mechanisms only, why doesn’t it start the emergency media management instead of starting the regulation debate? In any emergency situation, be it Tsunami, Communal Riots or Terror Attacks a proper media management is the need of the hour. Or else the chaos and ‘over showing’ is ought to be followed! Government is silent on this particular issue. So how could the government intention be seen as a non-propaganda tool?

In those three days media were as chaotic as the government. God forbids, if 26/11 revisits we will see again the same disorderly situation. When the government is giving freedom, then there should be a minimum management system.

I am referring three incidents of Independent India. Two of them were before the news boom and one from the televised era.

Nellie Massacre 1983: The six-hour-long attack on 18th February morning in Assam was the ghastliest massacre of Independent India. Bangladeshi migrants were killed, infants-children-old-men-women none was spared. Official death toll was more than 2000 and unofficially it ran to 5000. Only Rs.5000 each was paid as compensation to the families of the dead. Inquiry commission too was there. But the submitted report was kept under the wrap by the-then Congress government. All the Nellie massacre cases were dropped when the Asom Gana Parishad came to power under the chief ministership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Had it been in the full glare of media, the ill-fated could have got justice and a proper compensation. Wasn’t it a complete cover-up from Government’s side?

Babri Masjid 1992: This religious structure was demolished on 6th December. News Television was an unfamiliar word then. Th news was carried on Doordarshan’s news bulletin only next day evening, that too with the still visuals of Babri Masjid in its original form! Some argue, if this would have taken place in this era of news revolution, it couldn’t have happened because the presence of cameras and crew would have served as a deterrent. The-then Congress government had shown the filtered news and visuals, whereas BBC had carried it LIVE!! It clearly showed the difference between ‘Public Service Broadcaster’ and a ‘free private channel.’ Wasn’t it a sort of propaganda?

Gujarat Carnage 2002: The Genocide took place in the watchful eye of media. Thanks to fearless reporting of Star News, the whole world got to see what had been pogrom by the Gujarat Government. The difference was that Nellie took place when Doordarshan was the king and Gujarat Genocide happened when private channels had already revolutionised news and thrown away Doordarshan yards away. Fourth Estate has shown enough courage to question the authority. Unlike the Nellie Massacre or 1984-Anti Sikh Riots some justices have been delivered to the riot victims. Media was the only silver lining at that particular point of time. Had it been a ‘regulated’ news item, we might not have ever understood the density of the crime against humanity.


I am not saying that TV news is doing a saintly job or it has come with the noble duty of a social reformer. Still, it is helping the society in a constructive way.

Thus, the central government wants the regulation out of fear: the fear of Exposure.

· What is Content Code?

Along with the draft Broadcasting Bill, the I & B Ministry has also formulated a content code to regulate the programme “quality” being aired by broadcasters and to “protect the consumers interests”, national interests and right to privacy.

· What regulations govern TV services as of now?

Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 is the basic governing system for all TV channels related issues. SOURCE: The Indian Express)

· Information and Broadcasting Ministry proposal: An expert body will regulate the content of the channels. In the time of ‘National Emergency’ like terror attacks, communal tensions etc all the news channels have to take prior permission to broadcast ‘sensitive’ footage.

Had the government censorship been practised, we would have to watch the ‘restrained coverage’ of Mumbai attacks, Gujarat Genocide, Gujjar Andolan and many more. Government, irrespective of party lines, can use this Broadcast Bill as a tool for political vendetta too. Say, Congress is ruling at the centre, it can even magnify some ‘trivial’ events of any opposition-run state or vice-versa.

But the need for self regulation cannot be denied. For that purpose prominent broadcasters have formed News Broadcasters’ Association on 2nd October 2008. The aim: to protect the interest of the broadcast media and keep government away from interfering.

NBA is headed by Justice J S Verma, former chief justice and former NHRC chairperson. Other members included Ramachandra Guha, Dipankar Gupta, Kiran Karnik, and Nitin Desai.

In a press release, NBA secretary Annie Joseph stated, "It is a fundamental paradigm of freedom of speech that media must be free from governmental control in the matter of "content" and that censorship and free speech are sworn enemies."

It further added that any interference by government, however well intentioned, would however imperil not just independent journalism, but the very process of investigation itself. It therefore has become imperative that news channels lay down guidelines, procedural safeguards and establish a body that would act as a watchdog and a grievance redressal forum.


1. Impartiality and objectivity in reporting
2. Ensuring neutrality
3. Reporting on crime and safeguards to ensure crime and violence are not glorified

4. Depiction of violence or intimidation against women and children: News channels will ensure that no woman or juvenile, who is a victim of sexual violence, aggression, trauma, or has been a witness to the same is shown on television without due effort taken to conceal the identity.

5. Sex and nudity: News channels will ensure that they do not show, without morphing, nudity of the male or female form.

6. Privacy: As a rule channels must not intrude on private lives, or personal affairs of individuals, unless there is a clearly established larger and identifiable public interest for such a broadcast.

7. Endangering national security: All news channels will use specific terminology and maps mandated by law and Indian government rules. News channels will also refrain from allowing broadcasts that encourage secessionist groups and interests, or reveal information that endangers lives and national security.
8. Refraining from advocating or encouraging superstition and occultism:
9. Sting operations: As a guiding principle, sting and under cover operations should be a last resort of news channels in an attempt to give the viewer comprehensive coverage of any news story.

10. Corrigendum: All news channels ensure that significant mistakes made in the course of any broadcast is acknowledged and corrected on air immediately.

11. Viewer feedback: All News Channels will on their website, create provision to receive consumer feedback (*for details, see NBA website)


Programme and Advertising Codes Prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994

Rule- 6. Programme Code. – (1) No programme should be carried in the cable service which:-

(a) Offends against good taste or decency;

(b) Contains criticism of friendly countries;

(c) Contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes;

(d) Contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half truths;

(e) is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes;

(f) Contains anything amounting to contempt of court;

(g) Contains aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary;

(h) Contains anything affecting the integrity of the Nation;

(i) Criticises, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country;

(j) Encourages superstition or blind belief;

(k) Denigrates women through the depiction in any manner of the figure of a women, her form or body or any part thereof in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals;

(l) Denigrates children;

(m) Contains visuals or words which reflect a slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups;

(n) Contravenes the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

(o) is not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition.

Proposed Broadcast Regulation Bill


Subject: - Monitoring Committee for Private Television Channels at the State and District levels.

o District-level government officers can stop live coverage

o Government can deem a situation "nationally important"

o For such crises, a nodal government agency to provide visuals

o Officers can decide which visuals can be repeated

o Officers to decide authenticity of information

o Officers to decide whether phone-in reports by journalists or interviews with victims can be shown

The Draft Broadcast Bill and the Self-Regulation guidelines set up by the NBA do not have much difference. The crucial difference of course is the draconian power of pre-censorship to be exerted by a bureaucrat in case of the former.

Moreover, what constitutes an emergency has been kept vague with the draft amendment saying regulations could be imposed in case of "natural and manmade calamities or where the situation so warrants". This gives the government unnecessary powers which could be misused to gag the media. In a democracy, self-regulation is far more desirable.

Author Manoj Mitta believes, “there is however no getting away from the fact that the alternative- the electronic media’s much-touted self-regulation experiment - is already faltering. If TV channels don’t get their act together sooner rather than later, they will pave the way for government’s intervention with popular support.”

Now the larger question is, whether it is possible for the News Channels to function according to the NBA Guidelines in this cluttered market. According to Vinay Tewari, Managing Editor of CNN-IBN and the channel’s representative on NBA says, “Following a particular set of guidelines is not a function of whether the market is cluttered or de-cluttered. When there was no clutter, there were mistakes too. The only difference is to ensure in getting the facts right. We have to bring out what is fact and what is non-fact. These guidelines come with how to bring out the fact and non-fact.” He believes, “This rating system (TRP) is a way of differentiation from each other. No connection between NBA guidelines and TRPs...”

CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai admits “self-regulation will work depending on an individual channel’s determination to implement it. The problem here is that we are in a chaotic media environment where we have intense internal competition and a government at sixes and sevens in situations like this.”

‘Internal Competition’ can actually play a spoilsport in self-regulation. Just take the example of India TV. It was penalised Rs.1 Lakh by NBA for a specific complaint against them. India TV did pay that sum, but it had questioned ‘neutrality’ of NBA. In a no-holds-barred statement, India TV had said, “We would be entirely justified in our belief that the NBA secretariat has virtually become the personal fiefdom of the TV Today group.” (The-then president of NBA was G Krishnan, who happens to be the CEO of TV Today Group). In April 2009, India TV withdrew its membership from NBA as a protest, though in July it has re-joined.

If the members of NBA question its neutrality, how can it become a widely accepted alternative system to combat the government regulation? Another problem with NBA is that, most of the regional news channels didn’t take their membership. So NBA cannot act on them. Government can use this opportunity to interfere in the issue of ‘self regulation.’ NBA should try to bring in the regional players as well in its ambit, so that it can become as credible body and as powerful as Editors Guild of India and Press Council of India.

As Mr. Tewari puts in “You will get worried only when you have anything to hide. With so many news channels, government’s flaws are coming out on a regular basis. These are some ‘uncomfortable realities’ for the government, thus they want a content regulation.”

It is very clear, 26/11 is only a shield. May be, there was unethical and terrible journalism in those 60-hour live, but that cannot be the basis of amendment of an existing law.

The TV editors said that the proposed amendments were almost a throwback to the Emergency and are the worst possible assault on the Fourth Estate.

In a joint statement, the editors said, “the government’s proposed amendment is aimed at reining in media in the name of coverage of anti-terror operations, sex, crimes, narco-analysis footage. The self- regulation attempts which were put in place by the news channels have been completely disregarded by the government and attempts are now being made to completely subjugate the media to virtually perform the role of government public relations wing. The worst aspect of the proposal is the plan to provide visuals and footage through a nodal agency in any such situation which is deemed nationally important.”

Television broadcasters have already received support from the Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India.

Rajdeep Sardesai believes “The worry is that TV is being asked to do too much. It’s not being treated as yet another form of journalism in this country.” Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India had accepted the fact that, "Media coverage, especially by television channels, was amateurish during 26/11. We need to evolve as journalists. However, more important is to ensure that no one manipulates the situation for their benefit and gag our freedom.” And the irony was “it was only because of this coverage (26/11) that political heads rolled and the serious loopholes and laxity in the system were exposed.” News 24 managing editor Ajit Anjum has written, “Each district will have a separate interpretation of ‘national interest’ and will use this to throttle the voice of the media.” Satish K Singh, Zee News editor, said that the government’s attempt was an attack on fundamental rights. ETV political editor N K Singh has pointed out that the government appeared determined to monitor the media so that it can censor pictures and sound bites that demand accountability from the government.

Actually, 26/11 was never an issue, nor was the ‘ugly journalism’ associated with it. It has acted like a ‘catalyst’ for all the wrong reasons. Governments, be it autocratic or democratic, it never wants a free press. It always wants to see the fourth estate as a ‘yes person’. The secret desire of Indian government is: if not Pravda or Xin-Hua (Completely Govt controlled press of former USSR and China), at least be Doordarshan. But that intention is not fulfilled by the private channels.

If 26/11 has truly compelled the government to set up a monitoring system, then the issue of regulation should have ideally come after that. But the Content-Code debate was on I&B ministry site since 2007!’ Thus govt has always wanted to be the supreme.

I agree that some of the channels had crossed every limit for getting the maximum attention during Mumbai Terror Attack. But had there been a clear order of the government, the channels that had carried the minute details of even the commando operations or the telephonic conversation of the perpetrators might not have shown them. In those three days media was as chaotic as the government. But some channels like CNN-IBN did apologise after carrying wrong news on the same. So better editorial filtration can actually be the triumph card for combating the government censorship.


Whether the government gets a chance to bring in the Broadcast Bill, or the self-regulation ultimately comes out victorious, will completely depend on how far the channels show their ‘united we stand’ attitude. The media today are more feared, and less respected than before. The media should be able to distinguish between what is ‘in’ the public interest, and not merely what is ‘of’ public interest. Government is obsessed with the ‘shooting the messenger’ disease, but is forgetting their primary duties. In any given situation media are always secondary. Government is primary. If the primary player fails, the second one automatically becomes the primary one.

To combat the Government’s ‘propaganda’ attempt, Indian media must not take resolutions on paper but in practice. Self-discipline, restraint, maturity, responsibility must be exercised with utmost urgency. Speed should not be at the cost of accuracy.

But one thing is clear; ‘Introspection’ is the need of the hour, both for the Media and for the Government!

Presently, Government has three options in hand, namely Censorship-Propaganda, Media Management and Self Regulation. And it is already powerful enough to cancel the licence of any channel at this point of time, so why such a widespread debate?

Long back Pandit Nehru had commented, "I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the press. I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of freedom than a suppressed or a regulated press".

Is government listening?


The NBA Website (nbanewdelhi.com)

The IBN Website (ibnlive.com)

I & B Ministry Website (mbi.nic.in)

NDTV Website (ndtv.com)

The Hindu

The Times of India

The Indian Express

The Hindustan Times

The Daily News and Analysis

The Outlook

The Week

The India Today

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