Delhi HC fallout: NBA chastises motivated stings

NEW DELHI: For the first time since its inception, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) have officially criticised motivated sting operations on TV news channels, saying that the Delhi High Court's suggestion that an I&B ministry committee clear all stings before going on air is a matter of grave concern.

In a press note, NBA president G Krishnan said, "We condemn motivated reporting that attempts to fabricate news to gain popularity at the cost of journalistic integrity."

Krishnan also added that such acts risk discrediting television news and indeed the news media as a whole.

"But this does not mean that sting operations are wrong in principle. The NBA believes that sting operations are a legitimate journalistic tool and means of investigation, but like all powerful tools they have to be used with care and responsibility," he emphasised.

It may be recalled that on 30 August, the TV news channel India Live had shown a 'sting' that purportedly 'caught' Uma Khurana, a school teacher, using her students for flesh trade.

While the so-called news exposé caused rioting in Delhi's congested Dariya Ganj area, within two days the operation had been found to be fake, the reporter arrested and a while later, Khurana was cleared by the police.

Dismissing the case two days ago, the Delhi HC chastised sensational reporting and suggested that the concerned ministry set up a committee to subject all stings to scrutiny and give them clearance, which the journalistic circle has been alarmed about.

If the ministry were to take up the court's suggestion at all, there would be clear chances of censorship, the media has felt widely.

"We have noted with concern the suggestion of the Delhi High Court that the I&B Ministry set up a committee to vet sting operations and issue no-objection certificates on being satisfied that they serve the public interest, before the stories are telecast," a press statement from NBA said.

Krishnan said, "We are all aware that events of the recent past have called sting operations to question on grounds of authenticity, but stray incidents do not warrant such interference, which is totally against the tenets of democracy, free speech and the freedom of the press."

The NBA feels that the suggestion that a telecast of news receive prior permission of the Government would constitute censorship of news and would, for that reason, constitute "content control" and thereby an unacceptable restraint on the right of free speech.

"As much as stray incidents of irresponsible reporting cannot constitute a basis for imposing censorship upon the print media, such incidents of abuse of ethics cannot constitute a basis of imposing censorship upon the electronic media," said the statement.

The NBA is in the process of formulating a code of self-regulation for news and current affairs channels. Senior advocate and former Solicitor General of India Harish Salve is helping the NBA in finalising the self-regulation guidelines and grievance redressal mechanism.

Krishnan said, "The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been encouraging our endeavour towards self-regulation. We trust the government will view the present suggestion in the same supportive spirit and resist attempts and suggestions to interfere with the press."

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