Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes a clarification by Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh that his Government has no immediate intention of
introducing a statutory code for broadcast news channels in designated
India’s Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting (MIB) had reportedly prepared a code requiring news channels to
carry only pre-authorised content during situations notified as “emergencies”.
The issue became a serious concern with the MIB following the live coverage of
the November 26 attacks in Mumbai and the 60-hour siege of three buildings in
“The IFJ recognises the public
concerns that have arisen about the live coverage of such attacks,” Jacqueline
Park, IFJ Asia-Pacific Director,
“But the IFJ’s view is that India’s
broadcast media is stepping up to the challenge of self-regulation and will evolve
a satisfactory code of conduct even for such extraordinary situations.”
Official compulsions clashed with
the unfettered right of broadcasters on several occasions during the Mumbai
coverage. On the evening of November 28, as the Mumbai siege approached the
48-hour mark, police ordered all channels to cease live coverage. This
apparently was because a Hindi news channel established live phone contact with
the gunmen who had commandeered one of the three buildings.
The ban on live coverage was
quickly rescinded. But after the siege ended, the channel was issued a notice
demanding an explanation of its conduct. A committee of the upper house of India’s
Parliament called for statutory regulations on the media “in the larger
interest of society”, since it believed competition among news channels made
self-regulation a distant prospect.
India’s Chief Justice also commented
that the “symbolic impact of terrorist attacks” had been “considerably
amplified by the role of pervasive media coverage”. The “proliferation of
24-hour TV news channels and the digital medium” ensured that “disturbing
images and statements reach a very wide audience”. The Chief Justice said “unrestrained
coverage” may have the effect of “provoking anger amongst the masses” and fuelling
“an irrational desire for retribution”.
A consortium of India’s most
prominent news channels has since formulated a code of conduct for emergency
situations that emphasises the “public interest” as the vital touchstone.
The MIB nevertheless continued with its effort
to work out a statutory code and had reportedly drafted amendments to be
notified by ordinance to India’s
cable TV law.
“The Prime Minister’s clarification that the
law will not be put into operation is welcome,” Ms Park said. “But the IFJ urges
the broadcast industry to engage in a dialogue with the journalists’ community
and civil society to evolve a code that will serve the public interest in all
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents
over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries