Alarmed at the Government’s move to put curbs on live reporting of emergency situations and other restrictions on TV coverage by amending the existing rules, editors of leading news channels have written a letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, urging him not to go ahead with the proposed measures. They have called these measures ‘draconian’ and ‘historical blunder’.
The editors have also sought an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the issue. Earlier, the broadcasters had a meeting with Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Anand Sharma.
Commenting on the issue, Ashutosh, Managing Editor, IBN7, said, “The Government added regulation is not acceptable. The amendment to the Cable Television Networks Rule, 1995, will curb the freedom of the press, which is our fundamental right. No commissioner can tell us the kind of footage we can use on our news channels. We are in complete favour of self regulation. In fact, the Government had been talking of self regulation all this while, so what happened now? We have already set guidelines under the leadership of retired Chief Justice of India, Justice Verma, who is Chairman of the National Broadcasters Association (NBA).”
“The proposed measures to gag the electronic media have caused immense disquiet in the journalistic fraternity and amongst all those who believe in the freedom of expression,” the editors said in their letter to Dr Singh.
The letter further said, “As editors, we believe that the media is the watchdog to keep democracy and democratic principles alive. If instruments of the state begin to regulate us, the damage to democracy and all stakeholders in democracy would be irreparable. It is all the more surprising that this is happening when you are directly holding charge of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”
The letter stressed, “We are aware that our right to keep a vigil also brings with it a responsibility to function according to the highest standards of ethics and national interest. We firmly believe that in a democracy media needs self-regulation and not regulation. The electronic media fraternity has already made significant movement in this direction. In view of this, we urge you to immediately suspend the proposed measures.”
The editors urged in the letter, “We would like to personally meet and impress upon you the historical blunder that these measures would be. They would for all times taint this government as one that tried to impose draconian measures on media and forever remind us that the emergency is not yet a closed chapter in this country.”
The letter has been signed by Rajdeep Sardesai (IBN Network), Ajit Anjum (News 24), Arnab Goswani (Times Now), Ashutosh (IBN7), Barkha Dutt (NDTV 24x7), Deepak Chaurasia (Star News), Milind Khandekar (Star News), NK Singh (ETV), Pankaj Pachauri (NDTV India), QW Naqwi (Aaj Tak), Satish K Singh (Zee News), Shazi Zaman (Star News), Supriya Prasad (News 24), Vinay Tiwari (CNN-IBN), and Vinod Kapri (India TV).
The amendments to the Cable Television Networks Rule, 1995, would now include monitoring stories on sex, crimes, footage of narco-analysis admissions, among others.
According to the Act:
District Magistrates and Sub-divisional Magistrates, besides Commissioners of Police, will have the power to block live transmission by any channel and confiscate transmission equipment.
Visuals and footage will be provided through a nodal agency in any such situation deemed ‘nationally important’.
Officers will have the power to decide whether repeat telecast of a footage is necessary (and thereby in the national interest) or not.
They will also decided if any information is unauthenticated and should, therefore, be blocked.
Decisions regarding the nature of phone-in of reporters and victims or their interviews and if these disturb public order, will also rest with these officers. They will also decide if such phone-ins and interviews are against national interest.
The amendments have been proposed in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
It may be recalled that in December 2008, NBA had agreed to their own set of six guidelines that include no live contact with militants or hostages, no mention of security operation details and no images of people killed.
But as it seems security agencies and the Government are still not convinced that media groups will not overstep the line again.
Mumbai siege coverage: NBA unveils guidelines for terror reporting on channels