news channels in the country are pouring out sting operations, sponsored programmes, SMS polls, and stand-up comedians. With this deluge of newstainment (news plus entertainment), the news channels are providing good competition to the general entertainment channels (GECs), as has been proved by the phoenix-like rise of certain tabloid based news channels.
However, next year will see the broadcast bill, which is intended to clip media wings, come up before Parliament. The recent fake sting operation by a private TV channel has only lent strength to the voices in political circles clamouring for the bill to be passed to prevent misuse of freedom by certain sections of the media in the battle for TRPs.
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which had been keeping mum over the issue till now, is finally speaking for broadcasters on issues such as freedom of media and sting operations as a legitimate journalistic tool.
"The recent sting operation aired by TV channel Live India and the events following it have raised substantial and serious issues," says Annie Joseph, secretary general, NBA.
A teacher in a Delhi government school was attacked brutally after she was framed in a fake sting operation by a private TV channel, which was later banned for a month. The teacher was suspended before it was revealed that the sting operation was orchestrated and the motive was personal vendetta.
"The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) unequivocally condemns any attempt by anyone to fabricate news and to attempt to gain popularity at the cost of journalistic integrity. Such acts risk discrediting television news, and indeed the news media, as a whole," says Joseph.
But the big debate here is whether one black sheep means all sheep are black. "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," says Joseph.
Questioning the role of the government in banning Live India after the sting operation, Joseph adds, "Regrettably, the present instance is only the latest in a series of government interventions in media content in the recent past, including several cases of suspension of licensed TV channels. In each instance, the key question left unanswered was how and by what process it was determined that there was an offence, and on what basis the penalty was determined."
The ban on channels is not a new phenomenon in India. Before this, the government had imposed a ban on channels such as FTV and AXN for vulgar and obscene programmes.
"A free and independent media is the cornerstone of India's powerful democracy, and an elected government should support and strengthen that freedom," asserts Joseph.
Joseph says the NBA knows that with freedom comes responsibility, and it respects the role of the government in ensuring such responsibility. However, it also believes that to do so requires a transparent and codified process. Government intervention in news content without a transparent, codified process and basis is nothing short of censorship, and a threat to the freedom of the press - and in turn to the health of democracy.
In acknowledgement of the responsibility of the press, a committee of editors of member channels of the NBA is framing self-regulation guidelines for news and current affairs channels, for implementation at the earliest.