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Guest Column<br>Newsmanic: Madam Minister, please read the NBA’s unwritten code of collective silence

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Guest Column<br>Newsmanic:  Madam Minister, please read the NBA’s unwritten code of collective silence

So the Government wants to file an FIR against two reporters of The Times of India for their report, which said two ITBP jawans were injured in firing by the Chinese army. The Government claims that the report was wrong, that there was no firing by the Chinese and hence, no question of any Indian soldier getting injured. Filing an FIR is definitely an extreme form of redressal, but when journalists go wrong they must be prepared to face the consequences. If they need to go to court to prove their story, they must.

Accountability demands that they take that trouble. But the problem here is not about accountability, but about trust. When it comes to “trust”, I would much rather go with the media, warts and all, rather than with the government. It’s not difficult for governments to destroy some records and create yet others when the heat is on. And when the matter relates to China, the heat is really on because we have a simple China policy: the-wet-our-pants policy.

Anyway, we needn’t take the Government’s threatening noises too seriously. The lead report in The Hindu had two purposes: One, to tell our “friendly” neighbourhood bully that he is still the “dada” in the area, and much as some television channels might want India to wipe out China, we will never forget 1962, thank you. And, two, to tell the Indian media to back off, because this time the frenzy seemed to have spread even to print. That done, and the media completely silenced (it will be a while before you hear about Chinese transgressions again), we can rest assured that we have heard the last about the FIR against the Times reporters.

I brought up the FIR stuff not because the freedom of press was at stake (even the TOI did not seem to mind it, why would I?). I brought it up to point out the absurdity of threatening to sue two reporters for a supposedly wrong report just two weeks after two news channels reported complete lies during the YSR episode.

Twenty days after the two lies, a lot has happened. The I&B Secretary met the National Broadcasters Association (NBA), the body that has taken upon itself the responsibility of self-regulation of TV news; I&B Minister Ambika Soni met the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA), the newly formed body to ensure responsible journalism; and the NBA had its board meeting. I’m not privy to what happened, but at all these meetings the question of self-regulation must have come up. It always does. Like no meeting is complete without agreeing to meet again, no NBA meeting is complete without driving one more nail into the coffin of self-regulation.

Yes, a lot has happened since, except what needed to have happened: action against the two channels, which are members of the NBA. I have not even heard of a reprimand from the NBA’s Disputes Redressal Authority headed by Justice JS Varma, who had pulled up India TV earlier for a far lesser “crime” and has since gone into deep slumber. Forget about Justice Varma, I’ll be stunned if even an internal memo has been issued in these channels, pulling up the people responsible or advising caution in future.

The net result of all that has happened – actually not happened – is that the two channels got away without as much as an apology to their viewers. If the cost of telling blatant lies is guaranteed and instant industry amnesia, you can bet your life that we have not seen the last lie on television. All the NBAs and BEAs are only organisations that strive to save their skins. Yes, television channels self-regulate. They “regulate” their urge to report an offending competitor for its misdemeanors, because they expect the latter to look the other way when they are themselves in the box.

Hopefully, some day not too far in the future, Ambika Soni will read this unwritten code of NBA’s silence.

But the good thing about TV is: That in all the noise that goes by the name of Hindi news, there’s a show that is as soothing as ‘Vinod Dua Live’ (NDTV India, 8 pm). Dua always used to read the news at this hour, but it was turned into his show in January. Dua talks unhurriedly, works on his script (rather than wing it as he goes along), picks fairly good news stories, avoids screaming headlines and, this is unbelievable, keeps all that threatening, stolen music completely out. The show is like still waters in a storm, as unlikely and as welcoming. Hope enough whiners like me watch it to make it work… I’m told it’s having problems at the Wednesday box office.

(The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of


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