To bridle electronic media or not?
The debate on media ethics and responsibility is back in focus after a shocking act of sexual violence by an unruly mob against a girl in Guwahati was aired by a news channel last week.
The victim was stripped, groped and beaten by a group of youth for over 20-odd minutes outside a pub late in the night but the reporter of the channel, News Line, instead of making any effort to help the victim, preferred to videograph the incident as it unfolded within inches of his camera.
This is not an isolated tragic occasion when the people of this country saw humanity going for a toss, allegedly to score a high TRP (target rating point), and questions were raised on the role of the electronic media. There have been allegations against mediapersons of instigating acts of violence earlier too.
Recalling how media filmed a student committing self-immolation during the country-wide protest against the Mandal Commission recommendations for reservation in education and jobs, director of Centre for Social Research Ranjana Kumari said, mediapersons too have “social responsibility”and such incidents should not be allowed to happen.
Right vs duty
“During the protest against Mandal report, a person committed self-immolation and media kept filming the tragic incident instead of stopping him from doing so,” she rued, saying that a clear line should be drawn by media against coverage of such incidents.
The role of the media in bringing to light incidents like the molestation of a girl in Assam is “very significant” but at the same time, mediapersons should make honest efforts to prevent perpetrators from resorting to excesses.
“The TV journalist should have called the police. Who was stopping him from doing so? He should have stopped filming. It was not a scene from a film or television serial but a horrible act by a mob. After all, a reporter is also a human being. It’s his social and equal responsibility to save people from becoming victims of such violence, while highlighting such incidents,” she said.
The Editors’ Guild of India (EGI) endorsed her view saying the primary responsibility of the TV journalist was to make efforts to save the Guwahati girl from the clutches of the hooligans. Nevertheless, he was equally responsible for covering the incident and “bringing it before the people of the country”.
“It’s important to cover such incidents. But at the same time, reporters should make efforts to save the victim in such circumstances. In the Guwahati case, the journalist should have immediately called the police,” EGI general secretary Vijay Nayak told Deccan Herald, striking a different note from the view that media’s job is to inform, not to handle a berserk mob.
Nayak also underlined that while shooting the act of sexual violence, the TV reporters should be careful not to cross the limits of decency and expose the victim.
Self-regulation the key
Amid this debate on TRP vs media ethics, there has been a consistent demand from various sections of the society to bring electronic media under a regulatory framework. But, the government wants electronic media to self-regulate.
Ranjana Kumari also shared the government’s views saying that any effort to regulate or control electronic media would create more problems.
“In a democratic country like India, I think controlling electronic media would not be a good idea. Role of the media is very significant in a democracy,” she said.
In the backdrop of incidents like the Guwahati girl’s molestation, however, there was a need to self-regulate coverage of mob violence, she said, suggesting that electronic news channels should introspect and frame proper guidelines to avoid recurrence of such misplaced professionalism.
While collective self-regulation is yet to succeed in substantive measures for it is neither universal nor enforceable, individual self-regulation too has failed due to personal predilection and the prevailing of personal interest over public interest, a government official, requesting anonymity, said.
Urging the government to give it more powers, the Press Council of India has made a strong recommendation for bringing the electronic media under its purview and rechristening Press Council as Media Council. The government is dragging its feet on it.