Television

News channels heads advocate self-policing in times of crisis

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MUMBAI: With most Indian news channels misreporting the number of blasts in Mumbai last Monday -- besides hovering around the site and causing confusion -- the city police have laid down rules for TV crews reporting from any scene of crime in the future.

Mumbai police officials have communicated that they have decided to cordon off the area of crime immediately. This, they say, would not just protect evidences but also prevent further loss, in case a second explosive device is present in the vicinity.

TV teams have also been strictly advised not to flash information without verifying it from a senior police officer. Addressing an urgent meeting with top television officials at 4 pm on Saturday, (30 August) joint commissioner of police (law and order) Ahmed Javed said that his department will appoint a senior officer to confirm the incident, in case of crisis, henceforth.

Javed said this step is mandatory to check baseless commotion and panic among the masses. It has been taken considering the dependence of the public on the electronic media.

Present at the meeting were representatives of CNBC, In Mumbai, ETV, Aaj Tak and Star News.

While the television fraternity agreed that some guidelines had become essential to curb misinformation, there are speculations if the media itself -- and not the police -- should lay the rules.

While speaking to indiantelevision.com, Aaj Tak's bureau chief Shishir Joshi approved of Javed's contentions. Joshi said, "The JCP has only two demands -- first, that journalist must not jump the gun while reporting on sensitive issues; and second, that post-crisis, journalists and photographers must not hover around the spot and hamper investigations."

Joshi explained that these rules won't inhibit journalists' freedom as they are "restrained only for dealing with sensitive information".

However, Sahara Samay Mumbai's chief Rajiv Bajaj hit the nail on the head, saying, "There is misreporting; but in this case, the channels should police itself, not the city police."

Bajaj also said it was very important that channels report a trifle carefully. "Our channel was among the few, which took care to convey the right information on the day of the blast, last week. All the other news channels went berserk saying there were three, four and even six blasts! But we were careful. That's what I mean when I say that the channels need to enforce their own law."

At present, Javed has handed over a list of phone numbers of key police officials to channel representatives present at the meeting on Saturday. Joshi said, that these five key officials have been authorised by the police to verify any information on sensitive issues. He opines that this will curb chaos in the industry also.

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