Dec 10, 2008

India - Curbs coming on live coverage of anti-terror operations

Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI: Faced with demands from security agencies to keep the media at bay during operations like the Mumbai hostage situation, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is planning to amend the Cable Television Networks Rules (CTNR) to prohibit live coverage of such crises.

The move comes in the wake of the self-regulation guidelines, adopted by private television networks on October 2, coming to naught during the Mumbai terror strikes, and the broadcasters’ rejection of the Ministry’s advisory to exercise restraint.

Since earlier attempts to regulate the electronic media through the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill had to be withdrawn in the face of opposition from the media, the Ministry has decided to go in for a CTNR amendment, which requires only a gazette notification.

As per the proposal, live coverage shall not be permitted in operations where the security forces have to overcome terrorists or other hostile groups or in a violent law and order situation.

Recurring phenomenon

Instead, delayed carriage of live feed could be allowed with the approval of an “authorised officer.” And, when the footage is replayed, channels cannot tag them as “live,” a recurring phenomenon despite repeated requests from the Ministry to networks to specify replays.

Phone-in calls and interviews with the perpetrators of a crime or anyone associated with them during the course of the violence cannot be aired live.

Operational details should not be compromised and care ought to be taken not to jeopardise any criminal investigation during coverage of the process.

While these amendments seek to specifically address the issues raised by the security agencies after the Mumbai attacks — where live coverage of the rescue operation is believed to have robbed it of its surprise element — the Ministry will also try to define the parameters of broadcast journalism on other counts through this notification.

These changes seek to bar telecast of audiovisuals of a narco-analysis/lie-detector test, judicial confession or any other method of investigation; explicit images of sexual perversions or violence against women and children; portrayal of a distorted picture of reality by frequent repetition of images or words; and close-up shots of blood and gore, dismembered/disfigured limbs of victims of any violence.

Protecting children

Addressing a demand from organisations representing women and children, the Ministry plans to mandate that no programme can subject children to abnormal levels of physical or mental stress and ridicule. Similarly, strictures are being planned on scenes of horror, occult, exorcism and human/animal sacrifice.

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