The process of Self Regulations initiated by the News Broad-casters Association received its first jolt last month when the News Broadcasting Standards Disputes Redressal Authority (NBSDRA) set up by the Association held that the Independent News Services (which broadcasts the India TV news channel) had violated the guidelines and asked it to pay a fine of Rs.1lakh and run an apology on its channel. The case pertained to a report carried by India TV on the statements made by a US resident, Farhana Ali, which the Authority decided was a misrepresentation of facts.
This was the first order passed by the Authority since its formation last October but instead of creating a sense of confidence amongst the stake holders, it has created a controversy that has put the whole process of self regulation in jeopardy. Instead of accepting the verdict, India TV has decided to quit NBA after lodging a protest over the manner in which the Authority decided to penalise it. It has alleged that it was not given a fair hearing, and till now there is no response from either NBA or the Authority.
The NBA Committee has been trying to reach a consensus with India TV to accept the verdict so that the sanctity of the regulatory body headed by former Chief Justice of India, J S Verma is kept intact and the Association does not become a laughing stock where other members have to be divided. That could place large question marks over the future of the Authority. In fact, there is a possibility that India TV may seek legal recourse to redress its grievances.
In 2007 when the Ministry of I & B failed to place the Broadcasting Bill in the Parliament in the Budget as well as Monsoon Session, it drafted Self Regulation Guidelines to guide the broadcasters in offering their services in India. In June 2007, it also issued the guidelines relating to content treatment for news and current affairs channels. This started the heated discussions and protests from the major broadcasting groups who own many of the 120 odd news and current affair channels in the country. Ministry was worried about the blatant flouting of the norms of news broadcasting by the broadcasters and they in turn were worried about the impending restrictions being placed upon them in running their ventures. Finally, the News Broadcasters Association took upon themselves the responsibility of making their own Self Regulation Guidelines which were presented to the government in 2008. In October 2008, the News Broadcasting Standards Disputes Redressal Authority (NBSDRA)came into existence.
Now this Authority is flooded with complaints about handling of news and events by the media. It is now grappling with the complaints about nature and content of TV Reportage, use of the defamatory, incorrect or sensational language and violations of the self-regulatory code of the ethics formulated by it. One such complaint was from Ms Farhana Ali settled down in the US whose cognizance the Authority took suo-moto and sent the notice to India TV. According to the complaint, Ali gave an interview to the news agency, Reuters, which was picked up by India TV, dubbed in Hindi, and telecast. According to a press release issued by the NBA, India TV even downloaded Farhana Ali's picture from the internet and used it in the story, giving a false impression that the interview was given to the channel. She was called a spy of the US government in the report, which, according to her, damaged her reputation.
This was quite expected by many such news channels who are trying to make their presence felt in the over-crowded news market. There are about 120 news channels registered in different languages in India. Out of these, only 31 are the members of NBA. Even these represent about 13 powerful media groups of the country. Under these circumstances, it is not possible to control the whole news television media in the country by the NBA. Particularly under the present circumstances where most of the channels are new and are fiercely competing with each other for the TRPs or to grab a piece of the Advertisement Pie. They try all kinds of gimmicks to be noticed.
The industry is not matured enough, to self regulate itself. It is bound to commit many mistakes in its development days and hence needs to be watched by the Big Brother, the government. We have seen what happened during the 26/11 coverage. There was nothing deliberate but still much of the coverage went out of control because of the over enthusiasm of the people and lack of their experience.
We should not compare electronic media with print because print media in India has a long experience and can handle itself well. The general perception is that some kind of regulation of the news channels is unavoidable and indeed desirable. Whether the media groups like it or not, it is demanded today.