Should electronic media, news media in particular, have a mandatory code of conduct? It is a burning question and topic for debates these days. Uma Khurana case, continue telecast of nude photographs of actress Monika Bedi, story of a car without driver and stories and programmes on ghosts and witches stick a big question mark on the content and sense of responsibilities of news channels. Freedom of expression or press and responsibilities towards society must have good balance.
Present Situation of News and Current Affairs Channels
Here we will talk only about TV news channels because private radio channels have no permission to broadcast news and current affair programmes. At present we have about 30 Indian news channels in different languages and there is a war of TRP(Television Rating Point) among them. TRP is linked with advertisement revenue directly, the only source of income for the most of news channels. Thus the war of TRP is just a war of profit, profit and only more profit. News channels have broken all the ethical, professional and social limits to win this TRP race. Here we are taking few examples of the irresponsible behavior of these channels :-
1) Uma Khurana Case: It is the most recent example of condemnable activity of news channels. According to the find outs of investigation the reporter of ‘Live India’ or ‘Janmat’ (A News Channel) made a conspiracy to trap Uma Khurana due to personal matters. Reporters and his helpers have been put behind the bars and the channel is facing one month ban.
2) Monika Bedi Case: “These are not pornographic channels and they must have some sense of responsibility. These channels cannot misuse press freedom like this.” Senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi used these words to mention the Monika Bedi’s case before the bench of Supreme Court. Zee news was telecasting the nude photographs of actress Monika Bedi continuously. Those photographs were taken in the bathroom of Bhopal jail during her detention, according to the claim of news channel. At last Supreme Court gave direction to Information & Broadcasting Ministry to restrain the telecast of these photographs.
3) Media Trials: ‘Media trial’ is a popular word in the street of intellectuals and our judiciary has shown its unhappiness on it several times. News channels are delivering decisions indirectly by their coverage and angle of stories. They don’t feel the sensitiveness of the incident as well as their responsibilities. In an incident of Delhi, a girl made allegations of rape and continual sexual harassment on her own uncle(Mama). News channels snatched this sensational story and started to broadcast it continuously with headings like “Haiwan Mama Ka Karnama”, “Vasana Me Andha Bana Mama” etc. After few days that mama and his wife committed suicide. According to suicide note that person was impotent so he was not able to do such a heinous crime. After investigation the girl’s allegations were found full of suspicion and a conspiracy against that person (Mama) came in to light. Here, the irresponsible behavior of news channels took to valuable and innocent lives.
Electronic media, both entertainment and news, get freedom of expression from article 19 1 A of our constitution like others. There is no any separate provision for the freedom of press like the constitution of USA and few other countries but the Supreme court has given the orders to save the freedom of press several times. Article 19(1)(a) do not give the absolute or boundless freedom to express. There are few restrictions mentioned in article 19(2). For example:
(Freedom of expression can be restricted or limited to save the followings)
1) Sovereignty and integrity of India
2) The security of the State
3) Friendly relations with foreign States
4) Public order
5) Decency or morality
6) Contempt of court
Proposed Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill:
“ Whereas airwaves are public property and it is felt necessary to regulate the use of such airwaves in national and public interest, particularly with a view to ensuring proper dissemination of content and in the widest possible manner;
Whereas the broadcast media is a powerful purveyor of ideas and values and plays a pivotal role in not only providing entertainment but also disseminating information, nurturing and cultivating diverse opinions, educating and empowering the people of India to be informed citizens so as to effectively participate in the democratic process; preserving, promoting and projecting the diversity of Indian culture and talent;
Whereas Government has issued guidelines from time to time for regulating the Broadcasting Services and it is felt necessary to give a statutory effect to these guidelines and provide for a comprehensive legislation.”
Above words were used in the draft of the proposed “Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill” which was put on the website of Information & Broadcasting Ministry for inviting comments. It shows the importance and sensitiveness of the broadcast media in the eye of government and the present situation (Worst) of this media is crystal clear to all so the Government wants to create a mechanism that could put few genuine restrictions on the broadcasted content. There are three important and think worthy features of this proposed bill:
1) Establishment of ‘Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India’.
2) Creation of the ‘Code of Conduct’ for broadcasted content.
3) Provision of punishment for the violators of the ‘Code of Conduct’.
Code of Conduct
Electronic media specially news media has registered strong protest against any code of conduct made by the Government. Broadcasters Foundation, the organization of news channels has declared any such attempt as the violation of the freedom of press. They are alleging that the Government wants to control electronic news media. After many rounds of meetings both the Government and news channels have come to a solution. News channels are ready to have a code of conduct and the Government is ready to allow the news channels to make code of conduct for them by themselves. News channels have demanded one year for the making of code of conduct and got permission too. Thus the “Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill” will have to wait for at least one year for being an act and practical enforcement.
Earlier we have discussed the present situation of the electronic media and no body can deny the need of some type of genuine control and restrictions on it but the freedom of news media can not be ignored at all too. We have faced the result of press censorship once during the Emergency so we can’t allow the Government to have power to control news media again. We can follow the following solutions:
1) Self made code of conduct : Self made code of conduct is the best way which was already adopted by the Government and news channels. Let the news channels make code of conduct for themselves and then a regulatory body should do arrangements for the strict enforcement of it.
2) Neutral Broadcast Regulatory Body : The Broadcasting Regulatory body must not be full of the Government’s representatives only. Prominent citizens from different fields must be appointed on decision making positions. For example : Senior journalists, Writers, Retired Judges, Eminent Social Workers, Artists, etc. Only this type of arrangement can satisfy the common people and we can be tension free by thinking that the electronic media which is the most strong and effective tool of mass communication is working under the surveillance of a organization full of learned, sensible, responsible and aware citizens in constructive manner and right direction.
– Amit Kumar, Expert of media studies