NBA issues guidelines on crisis coverage to news channels

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | December 19, 2008
The guidelines emphasise the need for news channels to be careful and discreet in their coverage of emergency situations

In the

wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has announced a set of guidelines for the telecast of news in emergency situations.

A committee set up on October 2 and led by Justice (Retd) JS Verma, former chief justice of India and chairperson of the National Humans Rights Commission, drew up a list of dos and don'ts for news channels covering sensitive situations.

Justice Verma says, "The judiciary and media are very powerful, so we must be very careful in our approach. It's a first-ever industry initiative in this regard. Broadcasters needed a self-regulatory mechanism, rather than somebody else imposing rules on them."

According to the guidelines, "All telecast of news relating to armed conflict, internal disturbance, communal violence, public disorder, crime and similar situations should be tested on the touchstone of public interest. 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 glamorises them or their cause, or advances the illegal agenda or objectives of the perpetrators."

During the Mumbai attacks, many news channels, including Aaj Tak and India TV, received notices from the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting for their coverage.

The guidelines also emphasise that during live coverage of hostage situations or rescue operations, no details should be broadcast or information given of pending rescue operations, or regarding the number of security personnel involved, or the methods employed by them. Respect should be shown to the dead and their visuals should not be shown on television.

The guidelines suggest that broadcasters should refrain from being in live contact with victims, security forces, or other technical personnel or perpetrators during the course of the incident. Continuous or unnecessary broadcast of archival footage that may agitate the viewers should be avoided. If any such footage is shown, then it should clearly indicate 'file', along with date and time wherever feasible.

What will happen in case of non-compliance by the channels? Justice Verma says that though the committee has the power to penalise such errant channels, it wouldn't want to do so.

"No one can ignore public opinion. If what you are saying is correct and is accepted by them, then there is no question of not following the guidelines. Non-compliance will erode their (the channels') credibility," he says.

NBA secretary general Annie Joseph says, "The recent attacks made it extremely urgent that such guidelines be issued at the earliest."

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