At last a sub-committee constituted by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry to draft a Code and provide guidelines to the media has submitted its recommendations and that has not come a day too soon.
The guidelines clearly lay down a series of do'sand don?ts for the broadcast media but they should also be applicable to the print media as well. The Code, as reported in The Indian Express (July 4) is to replace the age-old Programme and Advertising Code and specifies how broadcast journalists should go about their work, including sting operations.
Emphasising that infringement of privacy in a news-related programme is important, the guidelines specify that when the media carries out a sting operation, it should be able to justify its undercover operations as ?warranted? in public interest. The report carried by The Indian Express is attributed to the Press Trust of India (PTI), which is subscribed by practically every major and even minor newspaper. Why all newspapers have not carried it remains a mystery.
The Code spells out a 16-point do'sand don?ts for the media and makes it clear that channels must not use material relating to personal or private affair or which invades an individual'sprivacy unless there is ?an identifiable public interest reason for the material to be broadcast?. According to the draft ?if the reason is that it is in the public interest, than the licensee should be able to demonstrate that the public interest outweighs the right to privacy?. It further goes on to say: ?A broadcaster can record telephone calls with another party if it has, from the outset of the call, identified itself, explained the purpose of the call and also that it is being recorded for possible broadcast, unless it is warranted not to do so.?
According to the new rules drafted, any infringement of privacy in the making of a news-related programme should be with the person'sor organisation'sconsent or be otherwise warranted. Furthermore, says the Code: ?If an individual or organisation'sprivacy is being infringed, and they ask that the filming, recording or live broadcast be stopped, the BSP should do so unless it is warranted to continue.?
However, the point is also made that legitimate expectations of privacy will vary according to the place and nature of the information, activity or condition in question, the extent to which it is in the public domain and whether the individual concerned is already in the public eye. Sadly the draft guidelines note that damage or injustice resulting from news and current affairs contents of television cannot be undone but add: ?Hence there is need for having deliberate and transparent guidelines and standards for news programming?. So far so good.
As published, the PTI report does not mention whether the Code has anything to say about coverage of riots. It is necessary to point out that the ruthless and savage coverage of the riots following the Godhra incident by some channels only helped to encourage more revenge killings and while that is now history. TV channels should be strictly warned that certain Laxman rekhas under no circumstances should be crossed. It is not a tamasha when riots occur and innocent people get killed. Showing dead bodies lying in pools of blood in known areas reveals who killed whom, which only adds to unrest and high tension leading to more revenge killings. It is sad of the media not to report the full text of the guidelines laid down by the Sub-Committee. What sort of guilt-complex does the media suffer from?
Hindustan Times (June 4) ran a two-column story on how two of its reporters masqueraded as sex patients and discovered ?a world of muck?. The existence of such a world is no secret and the police, apparently, can do little to stop fake ?doctors? from practicing, whether in Delhi or elsewhere.
Two questions arise in this connection: One, have the police taken action against the ?doctor? who has been named and clearly identified? If they haven?t, what is their explanation? If they have, why hasn'tHindustan Times reported it? If the hakim concerned has done something illegal, he deserves to be arrested and tried in court. If the hakim has done no wrong, then the Hindustan Times reporters have clearly intruded in the doctor'sprivacy to expose him as a fake. Either the doctor is a fake or he isn?t. If the Court finds him to be a fake, may one ask whether there is any law laying down proper punishment? If there is no law on the subject, what purpose has Hindustan Times served by naming the hakim and harming his reputation? Does anyone care to raise such questions? Or is it that in current fashion everything is fair and journalists are above the law?
Meanwhile, according to a UNI report (again ignored by some papers), the Supreme Court refused on July 3, to stay the order of the Gujarat High Court declaring as illegal the appointment of the Justice U.C. Banerjee Committee by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav to inquire into the cause of the Godhra train burning incident which led to widespread communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. The Gujarat High Court on March 20 had also restrained the Centre from placing the Banerjee Committee report before the Parliament for discussion.
Hurrahs to the Supreme Court. Credit should also be given to the Supreme Court for making it clear that there is no legal basis to bar the screening of The Da Vinci Code. The Hindu (June 14) commenting on the judgment had said that following the Supreme Court'sverdict ?states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Nagaland and Meghalaya, which had rushed to prohibit its screening would be well-advised to reverse course?.
The Hindu had pointed out that while dismissing a petition to ban the screening of the film on the ground that it would hurt the religious sentiments of Christians, the Supreme Court had said that the Censor Board had cleared the screening and the film should be regarded ?as no more than a work of fiction?. Reportedly the Court said that if the film could pass the process of pre-censorship with its rigid guidelines, it could hardly be said to outrage religious sentiments, much less pose any danger to public order.
Fair enough. But has anyone pursued the matter further to check out on what the situation currently is in the states named? Is the film being shown in those states? If not, why not? If the states have accepted the Supreme Court'sviews, shouldn'tthe public know? Wrote The Hindu: ?To give intolerant groups a greater voice within the formal process of film certification would dampen freedom and creative impulses that are already under pressure from rigid censorship rules.? Well said.