IFJ Welcomes India's Decision to Shelve Broadcast Code for Emergencies

The International

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

“emergency” situations.

 

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 city.

 

“The IFJ recognises the public

concerns that have arisen about the live coverage of such attacks,” Jacqueline

Park, IFJ Asia-Pacific Director,

said.

 

“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quickly rescinded.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

contingencies.”

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ represents

over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries