Mixed Media: News media buckles under pressure!

Given that our law-makers are intent on regulating news channels, one would have liked the News Broadcasters Association to have put up a braver front, writes Pradyuman Maheshwari, Group Chief Editor, exchange4media.com and impact.

e4m by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published: Dec 22, 2008 6:36 AM  | 5 min read
Mixed Media:  News media buckles under pressure!

I have now figured out that I am not the only one who has blacked out news television from his/her home in the last few days. Others have various reasons for doing so, as for me, my decision happened only from last Thursday (December 18). That’s when I got a copy of the News Broadcasters Association’s (NBA) code of conduct for emergency, terror strike-like situations.

It’s unfortunate that the NBA has buckled under pressure. Industry captains heading it are hugely aware that the Government can revoke their licences if they don’t toe the line. And even if they defy the powers that be, an uncomfortable minister can issue a fatwa to cable operators asking them not to pipe out erring channels.

So, why did I switch off all news channels? Because as an avid news TV consumer, I am shocked that they have given in so easily. And as a journalist, though not with television, I feel awfully betrayed by the Association, or at least its public posturing. The NBA must realise that a Parliamentary Committee has already recommended that whether or not the industry adopts self-regulation, it believes that the Government must have a regulator in place. Hence, I would have thought a united front of “we too are responsible Indians, but don’t teach us what to do” would have been better.

Remember, the last thing that India can do at this stage is to censor the press. Even if the I&B Ministry allows it, External Affairs will not. Monsieur Anand Sharma has his feet in both. As an ‘impact’ poll had indicated a few weeks back, the faith in the state-owned broadcaster is near-zilch when it comes to the coverage of crises.

There are attempts being made to talk of how western networks have rules on x, y and z. Heck, we are living in times when a Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky TV aired live a case of assisted suicide by British national Craig Ewert. The act of Ewert biting on a timer button to switch off his breathing equipment at a Zurich clinic was Reality Television breaking new grounds. The British regulators are examining if Sky flouted rules, but my point is that we are living in different times. A large number of kids may ‘eeew’ the display of dead bodies, but they track sex and gore more than what family elders do. I can say that for my 10-year-old daughter and a host of her friends and cousins in Mumbai and elsewhere.

So what could the NBA have done? From what I gather, the broadcasters need to believe in themselves. Yes, they are in it for the money, but for that they may as well run a general entertainment channel (GEC) or a mythological/ whatever. In fact, two of them are doing that – one colourful and the other’s success is so far imaginary, but that’s a different story.

The print media – although some of the biggies do come from a different era – are remarkably united when it comes to the mantris acting funny with them. Perhaps the NBA might take a cue from print editors, and speak in a united voice. The NBA must ensure that everyone – including Justice JS Verma and the disputes redressal body – believes in a progressive and practical definition of good journalism.

Yes, there is need for restraint amongst various news channels, and editors, anchors and their bosses must now take a detached look at playbacks of the 60-odd hours of coverage. As all channel news chiefs have said in the past and so has this column, the fault for what was aired on television is possibly more of the Government than that of the channels. In fact, as I wrote last week, the Prime Minister must compliment news TV for ensuring that the world got the message. It was terrorism, and it came from you-know-where.

End Note: The NBA should be happy that Minister Anand Sharma is smiling. “It’s a step in the right direction,” he told journos in Goa on Saturday. “Extraordinary circumstances require careful coverage, not hampering rescue or counter operations,” he sermonised. In the meantime, the Government is setting up a steering committee with people from key ministries, the NBA and, very interestingly, the Rajdeep Sardesai-headed Editors’ Guild of India.

No further comments.

PS: As I closed the file of this week’s Mixed Media and sat back to watch some telly, a certain ad caught my attention as I flipped channels. I stayed on. Had vented enough… couldn’t not be watching news.

Next week:

The Mixed Media 2008 ‘Awards’ plus The channels I watch and why

(Note, the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the exchange4media Group, where I am Group Chief Editor, exchange4media.com and impact. Don’t agree with my view that the NBA buckled under pressure or feel that the Government must regulate channels? Mail me at mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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