All is fair when covering Anna?

BY Bisakha Ghose| IN Opinion | 03/09/2011
Letter to the Hoot: If the cardinal principles of good broadcasting and good editorial practices had been kept in mind, much of the drama in the heat of the moment may not have happened,
As I watched the ‘fast’ Anna saga unfold on the English television news channels, I wondered if all that the media does is fair. There were the split screens, the extraordinarily high decibel presentations overtaking the overexcited previous news breaking moments, star presenters in confrontational mode, some finger-wagging and preaching and defamatory statements being broadcast. It was a free for all for many of the channels. Day after day, night after night nothing else was happening in India or the world if they were to be believed. Many did believe. That is where the problem lies.
The power of the moving image is such that it can overshadow all else.  If it is accompanied by insufficiently impartial commentary then a potent mix is presented to the viewer. So what should journalists do? Should they not cover momentous events with verve and vigour? Would they not challenge the main actors in the ‘live’ political drama with tough questioning? Should such an event not push back all other news stories?
These are questions whose answers will be mulled over now that the euphoria is settling down. But if the cardinal principles of good broadcasting and good editorial practices are kept in mind, much of the drama in the heat of the moment may not have happened, nor would channels have to wait for the post-mortem after nearly two-weeks of feverish coverage.
Some may argue that in this day and age news broadcasting like all other forms of broadcasting ought to grab the attention of the maximum numbers at any cost. It is true that numbers do matter but the broadcaster must also keep in mind the responsibilities that go with the power of broadcasting.
The Federal Communications Commission of the USA states that “as public trustees, broadcast licensees may not intentionally distort the news: the FCC has stated that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.” 
Britain accepts impartiality as fundamental in broadcasting. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code emphasises that news should be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. It also states that programmes “must exclude all expressions of views and opinions of the person providing the service on matters of political and industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy.”
India’s own News Broadcasters Association says in its Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards that“broadcasters shall, in particular, ensure that they do not select news for the purpose of either promoting or hindering either side of any controversial public issue.”
All the channels and journalists involved in the presentation of rolling news during the fast of Anna Hazare need to ask themselves whether they have fulfilled these basics of good broadcasting.
Bisakha Ghose
August 29, 2011
(The writer is a former Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association)
Anna fast
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