NBA imposes rules for channels on terror coverage

NEW DELHI: After facing criticism that their live TV footage helped militants in the Mumbai terror attacks, Indian news broadcasters have produced a set of rules on how to cover such events.

Under the six-point guidelines framed by the umbrella body NBA (News Broadcasters Association), the channels shouldn't be telecasting details of identity, number and status of hostages. Nor should they provide information of pending rescue operations or details on the number of security personnel involved or the methods employed by them.

The News Broadcasting Standards Disputes Redressal Authority, constituted by the NBA, today said television TV channels should avoid any "live contact with the victims or security personnel or other technical personnel involved or the perpetrators during the course of any incident."

Addressing a press meet, Authority Chairman Justice JS Verma also said media should avoid "unnecessary repeated or continuous broadcast of archival footage that may tend to re-agitate the mind of the viewers. Archival footage, if shown, should clearly indicate 'file' and the date and time should be given where feasible."

The Authority said "no live reporting should be made that facilitates publicity of any terrorist or militant outfit or its ideology or tends to evoke sympathy for the perpetrators or glamourises them or their cause or advances the illegal agenda or objectives of the perpetrators."

The dead should also be treated with dignity and their visuals should not be shown. Special care should be taken in the broadcast of any distressing visuals and graphics showing grief and emotional scenes of victims and relatives which could cause distress to children and families.

At the outset, the Authority said all telecast of news relating to armed conflict, internal disturbance, communal violence, public disorder, crime and other similar situations should be tested on the touchstone of ?public interest?.

Furthermore, the media had the responsibility to disseminate information which was factually accurate and objective.

Noting that these were broad guidelines and were not meant to be exhaustive, Justice Verma urged the channels not to comment individually on them as these had been drawn up at their initiative. However, he said in reply to questions that he could not prevent anyone from speaking if he so wished. He urged the media to "keep your conduct and do not fall into traps."

He said in reply to questions that nothing should be telecast which hampers the operation of justice. When it was pointed out that similar guidelines had been submitted to the Delhi High Court and the Government had also drawn up its own Self-Regulations Guidelines, he said all these would generally be in tune with each other.

Replying to a question on whether action was being taken by the Authority against any channel vis-a-vis coverage of Mumbai terror attacks, Verma said, "It is too early and the media should give the Authority some more time." Asked to specify details, he said, "wait and watch."

He said similar guidelines had also been issued in 1997 but had to be revised as some channels differed with the earlier guidelines. He also pointed out that an advisory had been issued by the Authority on 27 November, a day after the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

During a meeting convened by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and External Affairs on 10 December when he reprimanded the channels for their continuing broadcasts of the Mumbai terror attacks, the NBA had informed him that it was working on an Emergency News Protocol.

Justice Verma, a former Chief Justice of India and former Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, was accompanied at the press meet by Professor Deepankar Gupta of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Annie Joseph of the NBA.

Verma said he had been working upon drawing up the Guidelines for telecast of news relating to sensitive matters for some time but the tragic episode of the Mumbai terror attack made it extremely urgent that such guidelines be immediately circulated at least in relation to episodes akin to the Mumbai terror attack.

Clearly alarmed by the cascading effect of what it terms as the unending coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Government had on 10 December decided to set up a coordination committee with broadcasters to ensure some self-regulation to ensure balanced coverage.

Meanwhile, the Government reiterated in Parliament today that it had constituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to look into the specific violations of Programme and Advertisement Codes by the satellite channels at national level and to recommend action against them for such violation.

Orders for constitution of the State and District Level Monitoring Committees have been issued so as to keep a close watch on content carried by the local cable TV channels at district or State level.

Under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and rules framed thereunder, the District Magistrate, Sub Divisional Magistrate or Police Commissioner have been designated as authorized officers who can immediately take action against the local cable TV channels in case of violation. As separate committees/authorities take cognizance of complaints against National or local TV channels as the case may be, complaints do not have to be routed from District to State to National level before action is taken.

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