In the aftermath of Tehelka episode, Editors Guild of India has prepared a draft code of practice for journalists in print and electronic media.
The draft code that has drawn liberally upon an existing code chalked out by Britain's Society of Editors is aimed at ensuring that press freedom grows without running into aberrations. In an obvious reference to Tehelka, the Guild Code dubs 'Cheque Book Journalism' and 'Paying for information' as wages of sin that should be resorted to only in extreme limits of public interest particularly when no other means of obtaining the necessary information are available.
Even so, the payment must be disclosed in any relevant legal matter and it should not be offered to those involved in a related legal matter. The code prohibits seeking information through the use of clandestine audio and video devices or by intercepting private telephone conversations.
The code dwells in detail about news reporting. It says that conjecture should not be allowed to masquerade as fact and unsubstantiated allegations or innuendoes, unessential to the story should be deleted and facts segregated from direct or implied comments and verified properly to weed out inaccuracies from field reports.
The code lays down that the aggrieved party should be given fair opportunity to reply or contradict within reasonable limits and where apology is called for it should be given readily, frankly and with dignity. And in case of defamation, it should be covered fairly with due regard for the law.
In the light of the growing trend of celebrity coverage, the Guild has observed that undue publicity to personal affairs of personalities be avoided if public interest is not clearly at stake. The code calls for avoiding both sensationalism and suppression of facts. It also cautions that while protecting the source, anonymity should not be allowed to become a cloak for the source to dish out falsehood.
In reporting crime, particularly crime of sex and most so crimes involving children, the Guild code says that utmost care must be taken while identifying alleged criminal victim and witness so that the reporting itself does not become a punishment. While writing about religious controversies, the code lays down that all creeds and communities must be shown equal respect with fair reporting. In the matters of reporting human tragedy, the code warns that personal grief should never be shown blatantly in the name of human interest. To uphold the high ethics of journalism, the Guild code notes that journalists should not use their right to information for personal gains or accept favours for themselves or for their family members.
The code assumes significance particularly in view of Home Minister L.K. Advani's recent remarks in parliament advising media to exercise restraint particularly while reporting terrorist incidents. While upholding the freedom of press without any outside interference to it, the Guild according to its general secretary Alok Mehta has sent the copies of its draft code of practice to editors with a view to ensure that journalists adopt self code of conduct.