Following the broad guidelines that it issued in December 2008, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has come out with specific guidelines for reportage that set elaborate standards to be adhered to by member broadcasters. These guidelines were finalised at a meeting chaired by Justice (Retd) JS Verma, former chief justice of India and former chairperson, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The guidelines cover elaborate dos and don'ts for sting operations; imparting accurate information; maintaining impartiality, neutrality and fairness; law and order, crime and violence coverage; good taste and decency; sex and nudity coverage; the respect for the privacy of any person; reportage that can endanger national security; supernatural, occultism and paranormal coverage; the screening of content that would disturb or alarm children; and racial and religious harmony, which should not be disturbed.
The specific guidelines issued on February 10 state that news broadcasters should try to gather first-hand information from more than one source, reports received from news agencies should be attributed and verified and allegations should be reported accurately. Use of archival material should be clearly labeled 'file', and should preferably also state the date and time of initial broadcast. In addition, errors should be tended to at the earliest, facts should be clearly distinguishable, and not be mixed up with opinion, analysis and comments.
Broadcasters should remain neutral and ensure that diverse views are covered in the reporting, especially on controversial subjects, without giving undue prominence to any particular view. Facts should not be distorted while editing the content, and broadcasters shouldn't use information or pictures obtained through misrepresentation or deception.
The committee has come up with four pointers for broadcasters while carrying out sting operations. Sting operations should only be conducted in public interest and only when no other means are available to obtain the requisite information, without any illegality or inducement, and subject to the legitimate right to privacy; broadcasters should resort to stings only if editorially justified, for exposing wrongdoing, particularly of the public facets of people in public life; they should not be conducted except with the concurrence of the person overall in-charge of the editorial function, and the managing director and/or the CEO of the channel should also be kept in the loop; and it should be so conducted as to obtain evidence of an offence, but not to induce commission of an offence.
Vis-à-vis law and order and crime and violence coverage, the guidelines say that content should not glamourise or sensationalise crime or condone criminal actions; it should not depict techniques of crime that may tempt imitation, especially with reference to terrorism and suicide; reports on crime should not amount to prejudging or pre-deciding a matter that is or is likely to be sub-judice; no publicity should be given to the accused or witnesses that may interfere in the administration of justice or be prejudicial to a fair trial; identities of victims should not be disclosed in cases of sexual crimes and violence on women and children; the dead must be treated with respect; violence must not be depicted solely for its own sake or for its gratuitous exploitation, and scenes with excessive violence should be avoided; individuals, groups or organisations that employ or advocate the use of violence or engage in criminal / nefarious activity should not be glamourised; and live broadcast of sensitive and distressing material without prior scrutiny by senior editorial personnel should be avoided.
Coverage concerning national security should not disclose confidential information of operations involving national security; due discretion should be exercised in reporting on operational methods used by perpetrators of the state; reporting of events which erodes public confidence in national institutions should be avoided during the occurrence of the event; technical details of operations should not be revealed.
For supernatural, occultism and paranormal reporting, the guidelines say that subjects promoting such topics, which may be frightening to children, should be avoided, and belief in such practices should not be promoted.
A set of guidelines in children's interest states that broadcasters should not screen content that would disturb children; appropriate parental advisories, cautions and content classification should be used; content relating to or containing antisocial behaviour, domestic friction, drug-use, smoking, alcohol-use, graphic violence, horrifying imagery, sexual material, crude, offensive language, or which alarms or otherwise affects the psyche of, or cause distress to, children should also be avoided.
Racial and religious stereotyping should be avoided, and caution should be exercised in reporting content that is likely to offend the sensitivities of any racial or religious group.