The Advisory That Never Was!
News channels take a vow of silence whenever questioned about government media advisories. But why the secrecy?
Issuing advisories to the media to tone down coverage of protests in the national capital sounds more like something China would do. But since we’re competing with China on everything else, why not on this one?
We’d got a whiff of a couple of media advisories which had been sent from the government to errant channels following the December 16, 2012 gangrape incident in Delhi. Why was the government sending out media advisories? And were these advisories simply censuring the channels or were they also censoring them? Questions, questions. And who better to answer our questions than the media, right? Or so you’d think.
We contacted – emailed and called – Times Now, Headlines Today, NDTV and CNN-IBN to ask if they had received such an advisory. And just one person was willing to comment on the advisory. Either we were greeted with silence or shunted from one person to another – without any confirmation of anyone receiving an advisory.
So finally, we did what you do in a fair and equal world. File an RTI.
We asked the I&B Ministry for all the advisories it had issued from January 1, 2011 to January 10, 2013. What we received was a big fat bundle of advisories. Which included complaints against everything from ‘Bikini destination’ to ‘TV par Sakshat Laxmi’. At the end of the pile, was not one but two separate advisories sent by the government to various TV channels. Not only were news channels asked to tone down the coverage of the anti-rape protests, they were also issued a second advisory after the rape victim succumbed to her injuries.
The two advisories are given below.
To quote – on December 23, 2012, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued an advisory to “All News and Current Affairs Satellite Television Channels” in light of their “not… showing due responsibility and maturity” in telecasting the protests after the Delhi gang-rape on December 16, 2012.
The first advisory, after making ample reference to the “unfortunate and tragic” (not to mention entirely preventable) incident, tells channels that their telecasts are “likely to cause deterioration in law and order situation, hindering the efforts of the law enforcing authorities”. Of course it seems to have eluded our government that if someone – anyone – from their cadres had bothered to make an appearance or a statement during the India Gate protests on their way to brunching at PR guru Dilip Cherian’s party a few kilometres down the road at Lodi Restaurant, maybe just maybe there would have been no “deterioration in law and order situation”.
The second advisory, dated December 29, 2012, after the death of the gangrape victim, has the following gem – “In such circumstances (death of the girl) it is the fundamental responsibility and duty of all concerned to help the cause of public order. The media is best placed to play this important role by reporting and discussing the news… in a dignified, responsible and mature manner, exercising utmost care and restraint”. In other words, the government may screw up in maintaining law and order but news channels better not make them look bad.
Both the advisories cite Rule 6(1) (e) of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, which states that “no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence”. This portion is printed in bold, just in case someone doesn’t get the message.
So why did none of the media houses we speak to admit that they’d received the advisories? Well, to give credit where due, senior journalist Punya Prasun Bajpai was one of the rare ones to comment on the nature of these government media advisories. He said that earlier, advisories were not issued per se but editors sat in on meetings with cabinet ministers where such things used to be discussed. He also says that he had himself sat through some such meetings in the past.
The others in the media who were willing to talk about it, did so in muted tones. NDTV India’s senior managing editor Aunindyo Chakravarty said, “I personally take all ‘advisories’ seriously – whether it is from the government, NBSA, or even from viewers. However, as a rule NDTV does not ‘follow’ advisories. We do what we think is correct”.
Damn! That puts paid to all the Twitterati who keep tweeting that NDTV is a “paid media Congi agent”. Now they can revel in the fact that their, um, “feedback” is taken as seriously as the words of Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary to the Govt of India. Ms Sahu might not take as much joy in the fact that her word holds as much water as that of Internet Hindu troll number 5 million and 22.
What is interesting to note is that while the print and online media seems to have given the issuing of these advisories some coverage and analysis, the broadcast media, is still not breaking their vow of silence on the matter.
Who knew that our news channels were such martyrs that they are willing to take up cudgels against the government if it steps on anybody’s toes, but if a gag order is issued on them, they will stoically carry on. They won’t utter a word of complaint to the nation who otherwise gets to privy to exciting news such as what an actress’ next item number is going to be. Hell, if you go through the many advisories and show cause notices issued you’ll see that the much-pilloried India TV has responded to the government refusing to take their advisory lying down. And have “argued that the broadcast in question is a true and fair account of the event in an objective manner”.
But not our big boys of news TV. No no, they’re just happy asking other people to answer their questions and saying that they should stand up for their rights. Maybe they could grow a spine next time someone asks them to shut up. Who knows, we might even hit the streets in support of our favourite channels.
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