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TV News gathering: Responsibility issues

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The horrific communal violence in Gujarat and the images they generated had an overarching influence on the course of the debate during the session "TV News Gathering" held on the concluding day of Frames 2002 .

The core issue was whether the news channels should have been more circumspect in their presentation of the India's worst communal violence in over a decade.

Rajat Sharma, director, Independent News Services (of Aaj Ki Baat fame), chaired the session. Some of the points addressed included the responsibility of the electronic media towards its viewers; should the issues be related to the masses or only to people in the news studio; and can the channels be more responsible to viewers who spend time and money watching the news.

The discussion was opened by Sharma, himself, who began with the example of the 11 September terror attacks on New York's World Trade Centre. Sharma said most viewers switched to foreign channels, and saw vivid images of rescue operations but no bloodshed and pain. In India though, during the Gujarat earthquake, there were no positive images of rescue work in progress.

During the riots, news channels showed Muslim houses attacked and vice-versa. Did this all instigate people? These were some of the points that Sharma addressed.

Uday Shankar, chief executive producer, Aaj Tak, was willing to accept that mistakes had been made. But he said that what are considered mistakes by one channel might not be so with others. While speaking on the responsibility of the channels, and citing the example of the Gujarat riots, he said that while Aaj Tak did not identify any communities, people wanted to know who died and because of whom.

Shankar furthur defended the channels that did identify the communities during the riots. He felt that since everything in India is determined by religion, there is no harm in channels mentioning the same. Since people like to be where news is happening, even though they may not be able to witness it in person, they expect channels to bring it to them. But accuracy in reporting is essential, Shankar said.

Shankar said one man's responsibility is another man's censorship and vice versa. Also, today channels are vying to deliver news first and deliver it effectively. The demand of feeding information 24 hours a day is so huge that it often dictates what news is given. But it is not irresponsible handling.

Raminder Singh, who is with In Cable, said the role of a journalist has changed today. He felt that the danger of overdoing something on TV was far greater than the print media. This is because the print media appeals to one's rationale, and TV generally excites an emotion. Thus the question of responsibility. The responsibility lies with the senior people in TV. He also said that there was no need to show gory pictures constantly on television. Today, since there are so many young reporters, who are also inexperienced, they don't know how to ask a question, and this can be dangerous.

Anuradha Prasad, who started with PTI and now runs BAG films, felt that TV news gathering today is going through a catharsis. With the advent of satellite channels, good things have happened, i.e. they are linked everywhere, there are different perspectives, and there's food for thought, Prasad said. She raised a cautionary note however, while pointing out that the news for the electronic media has also become event related. There are no developmental, rural stories. All the news is market driven, she felt that there should be a proper presentation of news.

The last speaker was Rajiv Shukla, former journalist, now member of parliament. Shukla was of the opinion that communal riots should not be covered as it could lead to violence in other parts of the country. Shukla opined that communal violence on TV should be treated in the same manner as in the print media. At the same time, if the government is not doing anything, that too should be covered, Shukla said. He did admit though that all politicians are uncomfortable with media coverage. Shukla lamented the dearth of developmental coverage. The criminalisation of politicians is covered, but the majority of them who have no criminal record is not covered.

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