The coverage of the ongoing controversy surrounding JNU students and the government has once again raised the issue of responsible journalism and the need for self-regulation. The murky issue became even more convoluted with allegations that footage being show on TV was actually doctored. Recent forensic tests seem to indicate that at least some of the tapes were in fact tampered with.
News channels and, especially, debate shows on certain channels, have been using these tapes as the basis of their reporting since the start of the controversy, which in hindsight seems a serious breach of journalistic foresight.
So, is the Indian media ready for self-regulation? Are harsher and prompt penalties for carrying misleading, misinformed and, arguably, provocative language and stories an effective deterrent? We spoke to some veteran media personalities to get their views.
Madhavan Narayanan, Senior Associate Editor at Hindustan Times says, “Self-regulation is not working at all. We now have unverified pictures and videos, exaggerated and misrepresenting captions and competitively shrill anchors spoiling the media's image as a responsible purveyor of truth. The problem of media credibility seems to have increased, not decreased."
The solution, he says, lies in the Press Council and, where necessary and possible, for the judiciary to take note of transgressions by the media at least through comments that may have a salutary impact. “I am all for not-for-profit blogs and tweets to monitor and name and shame media entities that violate responsibility. One way is to sensitize advertisers that their brand values will come down if they patronize news brands that lack credibility,” he further added.
Nikhil Wagle, Editor-in-Chief of Maharashtra One, though agreeing that self-regulation is not working in the case of media, said that he opposed government interference, though he favoured harsher punishments for transgressions.
“While media needs to report the facts accurately and credibility cannot be compromised, often a wrong portrayal can have serious consequences and reflects poorly on the media as an upholder of truth. In the JNU case there has been a vertical divide of both pro and anti voices but as an independent observer I can say that JNU case is a classic example where half-truths were used to vilify the entire JNU community, which is wrong,” he told us.
"Strict action must be taken against those who indulged in spreading anti-India sentiments. The JNU controversy has allowed vested interests to fulfill their hidden agendas," said Saurabh Shukla, Editor-in-Chief of NewsMobile.
Sagarika Ghose, Consulting Editor at Times of India, said the news channels which aired doctored or morphed videos need to put out a public apology. She also opined that the doctored footage that was aired should be forensically examined and if anti-India slogans were found to have been inserted, every effort needs to be made to find out who did this, and who doctored this video.
“The NBSA needs to take note of morphed videos being aired and issue guidelines on verification procedures that channels need to adopt before putting out footage that they cannot authenticate. TV channels should NOT show footage for which they cannot take full responsibility. The NBSA needs to bar channels from airing footage of uncertain provenance, given the kind of morphing and doctoring rife on social media today,” she added.
Speaking further about the issue, Ghose said professional news organizations need to validate in detail the news and views they choose to air. “If they do not do this, they are not only being unethical but doing a disservice to democracy. The solution lies in relentless vigilance and care about the kind of material channels and newspapers are publicizing. As the saying goes, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty",” said Ghose.