What do NDTV, Times Now, CNN-IBN, Zee, Sun TV, ETV etc. to name a few, have in common? They all belong to the media fraternity and are members of News Broadcasters association (NBA). Presently, out of hundred news channels across the country only thirty news channels are members of NBA. And Disputes Redressal Authority , the newly launched body, that has paved the way of the electronic media towards self-regulation, is the brainchild of News Broadcasters Association.
The media as we know, plays significant role in a democracy. It is considered to be the fourth pillar on which a democratic country stands. The television, radio and print media are the most popular and effective means of dissemination of information and communication in the masses. Thus it is the most effective tool to motivate and guide the people, to show the direction, towards right or wrong, towards progression or destruction.
However, today, the media, depicts a drastically different scenario and plays a different tune.
Let us take a look at the recent frenzy over the brutal and senseless killing of 14- year-old Aarushi that shocked the entire country and these waves were created most regrettably by some established news channels and those that flaunt their yellow journalism. It was not reporting at all, but a coverage, that was not only aimed at being sensational but the breathless news reports with an eye for little more than lasciviousness were insignificant and, at times, uncorroborated datum paraded as investigative information.
Infact it is difficult to say who screwed up more. If the Noida Police pit up a bizarre display of rank ineptness, the news channels were not far behind as they hysterically lurched from one shrieking conclusion to another. They were never consistent, but always loud. Moreover the evidence changed from day to day and there was a startling lack of any memory about past theories and accusations. The coverage itself, however, alternated between the desire to be balanced and the need to milk the story for all its worth.
Television or the electronic media, infact, chooses its victims and victimizers more arbitrarily than it cares to admit and the Aarushi case shows how the media can work up hysteria without being able to make any sense of a story.
Hence, the need of the hour is proper regulation of content and strict surveillance of the broadcast industry so as to curb and regulate this uprising havoc created by the media,
Disputes Redressal Authority (NBA)
Justice J.S. Verma - Former Chief Justice of India
Ramachandra Guha - Historian
Nitin Desai - Economist
Kiran Karnik - Former President of NASSCOM
Dipankar Gupta - Sociologist
Vinod Kapri - India TV (Editor)
B.N. Rao - Zee News (Editor)
Milind Khandekar - Star News ( Editor)
Arnab Goswami - Times Now (Editor)
and as against the government’s keenness to bring the regulation of TV content into the folds of legislation, the industry supported the idea of self-regulation.
“Social sanction is more effective than legal sanction, if you have a lot of power, self-restraint is very important.” says Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India and Chairman of the Authority . Disputes Redressal Authority is thus, a step in the direction of self-regulation.
The Authority constitutes, apart from the Chairman, eight members, four of who will be editors from different broadcast companies and the remaining four will be eminent personalities from different fields such as Law, Education, Medicine, Literature etc. This nine-member authority will have jurisdiction over thirty news channels in the country.
So how does it operate? The authority aims to complete any inquiry within three months of receiving a complaint against a broadcaster, who has violated any code of conduct. It may warn, admonish or even express disapproval against the broadcaster. It may even impose a financial penalty of up to Rs. Lakh, or recommend revocation/suspension of license to the concerned authority.
All said and done, the question that arises here is regarding efficiency. Will the authority singularly, without any legal back up, be as efficient as it sounds? With so many channels on the foray and all of them competing and out-doing each other in terms of vulgarity, immodesty and above all showing glaring disrespect to the intellect and discerning power of the society at the same time, how can the complainant be sure of a quick and effective redressal?
And to top it all, a fee of Rupees one thousand has to be paid by the person who places the complaint. This may go against the body. How can a common man with meager means of livelihood afford to complain? His freedom to voice his opinion is curbed due to insufficient monetary power! He is bound to close his eyes and take leave of his senses.
However, the authority has among its tasks “ensuring compliance by broadcasters, television journalists and news agencies with the code of conduct” and also ensuring maintenance of high standard of public taste and fostering a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
As we are aware, television shapes its content by its form. The same media house, which in its print avatar can be a model of balanced reporting, becomes a rabid purveyor of half-truth set to a dramatic soundtrack. Thus televisionization goes beyond the idiot box and there are several tracks to be cleaned. The areas that need to be under constant supervision and self- regulation include reporting. Objective and neutral reporting is the call of the day. The next area of great concern is glorification of crime, violence and superstition, and that needs to be curbed. Decency and decorum has taken a back seat and needs to be upheld. Then comes the sting operations that have become quite a rage and needs to be authenticated.
Sting and under cover operations should be the last resort of news channels to give the viewer comprehensive coverage of any news story. Thus, sting operations are to be carried out with responsibility to get conclusive evidence regarding any crime or wrong-doing and not for sensationalizing breaking news!
Privacy of people is being invaded and their personal life is aired to uplift sagging TRPs! Then last and not the least, there is the national security at risk. Many a times, channels show news items or reveal specifications that may harm the country in the long run.
There is no gain saying that news channels, of late, have shown a tendency to go overboard while reporting on sensitive issues, overlooking the sensibilities of viewers in their attempt to sensationalize the issues and increase their TRP ratings. The very fact that a media watchdog as NBA has been necessitated, points to many a media aberrations stemming from the media’s over zealousness to give a colour of its own choice to various events. So all we can do for now is cross our fingers and hope that this new body with its concept of self- regulation really works.
While healthy competition among the news channels is welcome and will go a long way in redefining journalism, an unfounded craze for the sensational goes directly against the very essence and ethos of the profession---a propensity which the news channels themselves must confront, resist and do away with. People want solid news and unprejudiced views, and it is this fact of life that must form the basis of all media activities and this is what self- regulation stands for!