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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

Self-rgulation myths in trp driven tv media

By Y Siddaqui - Syndicate Features

The Mumbai terror attacks have left an unlikely casualty in their wake—the Indian media, particularly the electronic media. The India media has been assailed in both India and Pakistan, though for entirely different reasons. The Indian criticism is about the 'irresponsible' manner in which the channels covered the 60-hour terror attack on our financial capital.

In Pakistan, the 'awaam' (people), the impotent Zardari government and the country’s self-proclaimed 'iercely independent' media, all have combined to launch a relentless tirade against the Indian media for what they see as anti-Pakistan and jingoistic campaign taken up allegedly at the behest of government in New Delhi. This, say the Pakistanis, shows that the Indian media is slave to its government.

The Pakistani assault on the Indian media can at best amuse Indians and at worst can only be seen as the voice of insanity and the usual Pakistani narcissist delusion. The arguments heard or read in the Pakistani media about their Indian counterpart are nothing but a reflection of the frozen 1947 mindset and permanent paranoia that afflicts the average Pakistani. There is no cure in sight for it.

The 'fiercely independent' Pakistani media and the country’s establishment are upset with the Indian media because it did not hesitate to point fingers at Islamabad for the dastardly Mumbai attacks carried out by citizens of Pakistan. Had the Indian media named RAW and 'Hindu extremists'—as almost all Pakistanis have been doing without 'solid evidence', though—for the Mumbai carnage it would have redeemed itself in the Pakistani eye forever!

But the Indian media would ignore the flak that it has received from the countrymen at its own peril. The central theme of the Indian criticism is about the manner of the ‘live’ coverage of 60-hour siege. Showing 'live' actions like the commandos being lowered by helicopters and giving away the positions of the security personnel in hot chase of the terrorists, it is argued, exposed more hostages to death at the hands of the Pak terrorists than would have been the case had some 'restraint' been exercised.

So strong is the anger against the manner in which a big tragedy was turned into a 'live' show by television channels that everyone, including sections of the media itself, is talking about the need for bringing in some curbs to avoid a repeat. The electronic media is naturally against any statutory restrictions being imposed on them even though the public mood, which generally supports freedom and independence of the media, seems to be different.

Sensing the tide that has turned against it the electronic media has spoken of introducing some self-regulatory methods—not for the first time, though. An ‘emergency protocol’ is being prepared to cover events like the Mumbai terror attacks with more responsibility, keeping in mind the security and related aspects.

But the question before TV channels is: Can they make people believe with voluntary self-discipline? Looking at some of the events of recent months the answer cannot be a firm 'yes'. These events do not have to be related to terrorism. The point is that there was widespread public anger against the methods employed by the channels to present certain news and news-related events.

In the initial days of private (Independent?) Television, one of the controversies used to revolve round an 'ethical' question. Is it right for the TV channels to 'abet and aid' something like a suicide by shooting live acts like self-immolation? Perhaps such incidents were not so frequent and the issue did not snowball into a public outcry.

A popular demand for 'curbs' on TV News coverage was raised vociferously for the first time about a year ago after it was found that a 'sting' operation on a woman teacher of a government school in Delhi was a fake. She had been accused of running a call-girl racket from her school and the teacher was virtually lynched by an irate mob after the 'sting' went on air. Two persons directly involved in carrying out that 'sting' operation were arrested, though by then the teacher’s reputation had been perhaps ruined for life.

While the controversy about that ‘sting’ had hardly died there was another occasion for public outcry against the coverage of a murder—the well-known Arushi Talwar murder case in Noida on the outskirts of Delhi. Apart from the unfortunate teenage girl who was stabbed to death the two living victims of that tragedy were the doctor parents of the girl, especially the father.

The channels, particularly the Hindi ones, lapped up every sensational but implausible detail put out by an incompetent police, not realising that it all amounted to character assassination of the doctor parents and pre-judging the issue. The story ran continuously on 24x7 channels for days on end, as though to make sure that every viewer believed that the traumatised parents were guilty of a heinous crime even though the case against them was nowhere near the first stage of prosecution.

On each of these two instances the TV News Channel biggies promised to do something so that there was no sense of outrage in the public about the manner of covering 'sensitive' matters, including 'sting' operations that needlessly intrude upon a person's privacy or seek to entrap him in certain situations. But there is as yet no sign of any self-regulation being exercised though some 'rules' have been framed. The Mumbai terror attacks came just about a month after the News Broadcasters Association, which represents most leading News channels, had issued self-regulation guidelines and advisory to its members. Again, on the second day of the Mumbai terror attack, on 27 November, the NBA issued a reminder about its advisory, which was obviously ignored.

Clearly, the only consideration before the majority of news channels is attracting more and more viewers. It is a matter of guess if 'curbs', whether introduced by the government or the TV media's own professional body, will really work.

- Asian Tribune -

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