Media ethics in 2011

BY hoot| IN Media Practice | 02/02/2012
Free speech reports don't upset anyone in the professionâ€"they only underscore the journalists' sense of being brave, vulnerable and important to society. But how many annual reports on media ethics have you come across?
THE HOOT presents its first one. Pix: Insensitive bomb blast visuals
Free speech reports don’t upset anyone in the profession—they only underscore the journalists’ sense of being brave, vulnerable and important to society.   But how many annual reports on media ethics have you come across? 
In addition to its annual free speech report the Hoot will present from this year an annual report on Media Ethics in India which will flag issues which arose in the course of the year. This is intended as a documentation to enable discussion and debate and focuses on instances of media practice which violate norms of privacy, and fairness, hurt reputations or mislead the public without necessarily breaking laws. Add to this television news and fiction which promotes misogyny. Paid news has been included as a category under ethics because there is no clear law which governs the media houses indulging in this misrepresentation, and because it represents dubious ethics on the part of the media to pass off paid advertising as news.

Media ethics remained a concern for the better part of 2011 with a number of challenges manifesting themselves. has put together a documentation on some major issues which emerged in a special report on ethics in the Indian media. 
Confirming the broadcasting excesses of 26/11/ 2008
On May 29, 2011, Mumbai attack plotter David Headley told a Chicago court on May 25 that live TV broadcasts from India on 26/11 gave terrorist handlers in Pakistan all the visuals they needed to instruct their gunmen on how to battle advancing Indian commandos, recalibrate the attack on the ground and inflict maximum damage. (
No mea culpa
On November 16, 2011 seven Muslims arrested for the Malegaon 2006 blasts were released on bail. Media frenzy accompanied their release, with photographers telling them to make the V sign. The same media had accepted the Maharashtra ATS’s claims that these Muslims had planted the bombs that killed 37 of their own community, giving hardly any space to claims made by Malegaon’s Muslims that they were innocent. At the release, the lawyers of the accused and community leaders from Malegaon were being hounded for interviews; there was no sign of the ATS. Neither were they asked for an explanation; nor did the media think it necessary to explain their own conduct.
Naming names, prematurely
The reportage of the bomb blast at the Delhi High Court in September this year had much media speculation based on briefings by the National Investigation Agency. Student suspects were named in the press before anything could be established, One of them, Sharique Bhatt  was released when the police found he had been wrongly picked up. But he had already been named in news reports. He is a class XI student of Islamia Faridia Higher Secondary School in Kishtwar, and was painted as a terrorist by the media.
On November 1 the Indian Express  reported NIA briefings in detail while raising questions about the assertions made by the agency, in the same article. The article had detailed information about the third accused and how he had been plotting the attack. The paper picked holes in this information at the end of the article. But it name the accused even while disbelieving what the police said about him.
One December 20, the same paper, the Indian Express reported that Malik said he had been tortured in custody  and had been framed. The letter he gave to a special court contradicted the facts put out by the NIA its briefing.
Father of an alleged suspect sends a legal notice  
Tehelka reported in a story posted on December 19 that The father of alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Yasin Bhatkal has sent a legal notice to the tune of Rs 5 crore  to the The Hindu newspaper’s Editor-in-chief N Ram and reporter Praveen Swami, for defamation. It said, “Muhammed Zarar Sidibapa, resident of Bhatkal, Karnataka, has sent a legal notice to The Hindu demanding an unconditional apology for a front-page story published on 1 December. According to the article, titled “Breakthrough in 2010 attacks raises fears of renewed jihadist campaign”, Sidibapa is an IM commander who had masterminded a series of bomb blasts in several cities since 2005 and was absconding. However, Sidibapa claims that he has been managing his business in Dubai since the last three decades.”
Insensitive visuals
After the Mumbai blasts on July 13 which killed 18 people and injured 131,
television voyeurs entered hospitals, stomped around emergency wards and obstructed the work of doctors. Headlines Today telecast scenes from the hospitals where people were being taken for treatment. No effort was made to mask the individual’s face or his naked body as doctors and nurses were shown treating the person.
After the second Delhi High Court blasts in September Times Now showed the visuals of the injured which is against the broadcasting norms of television including those set by the News Broadcasters Association’s Self Regulatory Authority. The channel beaming raw mobile footage on the Delhi High Court blast with a warning slug on top :"Viewer discretion advised" . On show were dismembered limbs, burning bodies.
Publishing terror related hate speech
An inflammatory articleby Subramaniam Swamy was published in DNA (the content has since been removed from the site), written the day after the July 13th  Mumbai blasts. It incited Hindus to act against Islamic terrorists.
The Year 2011 saw the first action ever against a politician for 'paid news', the Election Commission on October 20 disqualified a woman MLA from Uttar Pradesh for three years for incorrect statement of election expenditure incurred on 'news items' in two Hindi dailies. The MLA, Umlesh Yadav belonging to Rashtriya Parivartan Dal. The losing candidate, in his complaint before the Press Council, named the dailies Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran as having carried paid news in this case.
On February 20, 2011 the London newspaper Sunday Times, carried a story “India’s media demand cash to run favourable news” on the paid news carried by the Times of India.  A Sunday Times reporter contacted Medianet, a company suspected of offering "paid news" deals. It was created by Bennett, Coleman and Co, which publishes many titles including The Times of India. The reporter telephoned Medianet, posing as the PR agent of a company wanting coverage for a party at an exclusive shopping mall in Delhi. The Medianet executive said space could be bought in the Delhi Times supplement.
In September, the Times of India re-ran a three-year-old story on Bt Cotton without any updates as paid news to neutralise a bad press on the biotech company Mahyco Monsanto Biotech on August 28th. The newspaper re-ran the news under the section “Consumer Connect Initiative” in September. In 2008 the TOI, Nagpur edition published the original story, and similar news reports had appeared in The Economic Times and news feeds of UNI and PTI.
In November the Goa newspaper, OHeraldo was in the headlines for paid news. A journalist, Mayabhushan Nagvenkar conducted a sting operation after finding that the newspaper has been publishing news based on the articles that are paid for. He posed as Bernard Costa, a would-be candidate in the State's Assembly polls to be held early next year. The sting operation has transcripts that show that the OHeraldo accepted an amount of Rs. 86,400 to publish a scripted political interview. The findings were published on web portals and  Goa specific websites, such as Goa Chronicle, GoaNet, TargetGoa and NizGoenka,MxMIndia. The newspaper manager concerned has sent Nagvenkar a notice for defamation.
·         When  Rayalaseema faction warlord Gangula Suryanarayana Reddy alias Maddelachervu Suri, the prime accused in the murder of TDP leader Paritala Ravi, was shot dead in Hyderabad by his close aide on January 3, 2011, the media indulged in voyeurism of the worst kind.  Gory images of the dead body was shown in close up on almost all the major Telugu news channels. (Tv9, Studio N, NTV, I News, Gemini News, Raj News, ETV and HMTV). The channels carried interviews of the wife of Maddelachervu and some of the visuals from the  film Raktha Charitra which was based on the life of slain legislator Paritala Ravi. Channels ran visuals and  interviews and asked questions that portrayed the killer as a hero.
·         The News Broadcasters Self-Regulatory Authority issued a strong censure to TV9 news channel for its “sensationalized depiction of the gay culture alleged to be prevalent in Hyderabad”. This was telecast on February 22, 2011.
Invasion of privacy and insensitive reporting
The competition among news channels to declare the son of cricketer Azharuddin dead after an accident (16th September) is an example of grossly insensitive reporting which took place last year. The vernacular news channels ran live updates about the condition of the son of the former cricketer, prematurely declaring him dead.
Slander/ Derogatory news:
On the occasion of the 2G chargesheet against her,  Kanimozhi's relationship with her husband was speculated upon by major newspapers like The Times of India, Deccan Chronicle, and DNA in the month of May. The stories focus mainly on her relationship with her husband Aravindam.
The News Broadcasters’ Association censured Times Now for a debate show in May titled  “Will Kanimozhi turn approver” on its prime time programme “News Hour”. A complaint was filed which said that the  entire debate, particularly the stress by the anchor, on a particular point of view was unwarranted and did not amount to neutral and balanced reporting of any Court proceedings. The NBA said it was violation of its self regulatory guidelines and  issued a “censure” for the breach committed by the channel. 
Slander against the leading activists of the ongoing anti-nuclear movement in Koodankulam – S P Udayakumar, M Pushparayan and M P Jesuraj were observed in a story published by Dinamalar on 24th November. A story titled ‘Truth and Hype behind the Koodankulam row’ contained statements that the project has been funded by US who did not want Tamil Nadu to develop. Dinamalar published the personal details, phone numbers and email addresses of the three activists after which they reportedly received threat calls and messages.
False information
Misleading information published by the Hindustan Times on June 26, 2011, was brought to light for misinforming the readers. The article contained information that girls were being converted into boys through surgical procedures in the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. HT generated comments from celebrities like Sonam Kapoor on sex change operations and gender discrimination to create more interest. But it was in fact  corrective surgery done on an infant and not to be confused with sex-change. This was clarified by a doctor who is one of the very few experts in the field of sex-change surgeries in India.
Another ethical violation was Sagarika Ghose's look live interview on November 9 with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It  mislead viewers to believe that he had participated in a panel discussion. In fact, he had been interviewed that afternoon by a local correspondent, and his statements edited and spliced into the discussion.
·         India TV was “admonished” by the News Broadcasters Self-Regulatory Authority for a programme on July 1 titled “Operation Gang Rape”. It showed MMS footage of a gang-rape that was explicit and therefore grossly offensive. A viewer complained that it was wholly inappropriate for such footage to be broadcast on a national news channel that was viewed by families.
·         The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council(BCCC) found SONY TV  guilty of objectionable depiction of violence against women. in three episodes of a serial called Prayashchit Gunahon Ka, and in two episodes of Crime Patrol, telecast in September, October and November. The channel was told to refrain from showing excessive/prolonged and graphic scenes of violence during general viewing hours.
·         The Council also found Zee Bangla guilty in October 2011  of what it called “totally repulsive” portrayal of violence against women in a serial called Keya Patar Nauko. The channel showed  prolonged shots of the male character beating a female member of the family.
·         ‘Na Aana is desh me lado’, a serial on Colours promotes honour killing and showed a woman being burnt alive, the BCCC said. Episodes telecast in September and June were cited.
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The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

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