Ban on live anti terror ops a good move, feels news industry

MUMBAI: The indelible, dark night of 26 November 2008 (26/11 to us all) and its aftermath is still freshly impinged on our minds. The real-time coverage of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terror attacks in Mumbai, not only brought out the ugly face of humanity but also had to face a lot of flak for reckless coverage.

The frame by frame in-depth coverage of the rescue operation shown on television was condemned by many as it had every chance of jeopardising the entire operation.

Soon afterwards, the television channels had agreed to ban live phone-ins, avoid broadcasting security operations and drop repeated shots post violent crime as part of a self-regulatory exercise on the part of private broadcasters.

However, the Home Ministry under the new Narendra Modi-led government is once again considering a   ban on live coverage of anti-terror operations by nation-wide television channels.

The ban on live coverage of anti-terror operations is not yet official. During the UPA government’s time, Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Anand Sharma had drafted a law for a ban, which was apparently scrapped by the then PM Manmohan Singh.

The Home Ministry has once again asked the I&B Ministry to amend the rules to stop the airing of such terror-based events and wants more amendments to the 15-point Programme Code prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules 1994 for this purpose.

 The rules were amended in 2009 when private broadcasters were brought within the ambit of the Cable Television Networks Rules. In 2011, another advisory was issued highlighting that a few TV channels telecast interviews with terrorists or terrorist groups, which according to the Government could help them advance their propagandist agenda.

In 2012, in a stinging rebuke to the electronic media, the Supreme Court said that driven by commercial interests, TV channels put national security in jeopardy by their "reckless" 24x7 live telecast of security operations against the 10 terrorists during the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

"The shots and visuals that were shown live by TV channels could have also been shown after all the terrorists were neutralised and the security operations were over. But in that case, the TV programmes would not have had the same shrill, scintillating and chilling effect and would not have shot up the TRP ratings of the channels," a bench of Supreme Court judges Aftab Alam and C K Prasad said. "It must, therefore, be held that by covering live the terrorists attack on Mumbai in the way it was done, Indian TV channels were not serving any national interest or social cause," they said.

On the matter of the Home Ministry writing to the I&B Ministry and seriously considering the amendment, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) president and India TV chairman and editor-in-chief Rajat Sharma is not unduly rattled. He goes on to say, “There is nothing new in this. This was discussed soon after the Mumbai terror attacks and in the interest of national security, broadcasters had agreed in principle.”

NDTV Group executive director and CEO Vikram Chandra feels that it is a good move because there should be clear-cut guidelines on what should and shouldn’t be shown. “I don’t think they can ban channels from showing it, but can only amend the guidelines so that there is clarity. Also, the government needs to be careful on how they proceed in the matter as the whole press will stand up against any ban or censorship.”

He further adds, “We also want to work towards what is good for the whole country. But there is a difference between censorship and amendments and that gap shouldn’t be nullified.”

Times Now consultant and strategic affairs expert Maroof Raza approves of any such amendments taken in the near future. “It is a good idea in general since enthusiastic but irresponsible reporting can have negative consequences,” he opines.

The debatable amendment is now hanging in the balance….

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