The Bombay High Court today observed that the National Broadcasting Association (NBA)-a self-regulatory body comprised of electronic media channels - was a toothless body and asked why media channels were not regulated. "We are surprised to know that there is no state control on electronic media. This body (NBA) is toothless... Why should it be unregulated?" the division bench said.
"The high court was shocked that while the print media has a statutory body regulating it, there isn't one for the electronic media", petitioner Nilesh Navalakha's advocate Shashwat Anand told Boom.
The high court was hearing an ongoing batch of pleas which sought an end to the "media trials" and guidelines for reporters covering crime. Three more channels - Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP), NewsNation and India TV have also been made parties to the case. All parties have been directed to file the replies by the next date of hearing.
During the last hearing on September 3, the high court had urged media channels to exercise restraint while reporting on the details of the investigation surrounding the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
We Uphold The Freedom Of The Press: Govt Affidavit
In its affidavit, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) said that the state upheld the freedom of the press and complaints, if any, with regards to media coverage in print or electronic outlets may be filed before the appropriate forum. The print media is expected to adhere to 'Norms of Journalistic Conduct' as framed by the Press Council of India (PCI); whereas the electronic media are covered under a self-regulatory mechanism—News Broadcasters Association (NBA), a representative body of news and current affairs channels, which has formulated code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards to cover a wide range of principles to self-regulate news broadcasting.
"As per existing regulatory framework", electronic media also falls under "programmes telecast on private satellite TV channels" which are "regulated" in terms of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.
Journalism today in complete defiance of ethics
Underscoring their submission, film producer Navalakha filed a supplementary affidavit suggesting that developments in the news coverage surrounding the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput "clearly demonstrates" how the media "has been sensationalising" the issue and "scandalising" the same through their daily coverage.
The daily coverage constitutes "only a tip of the iceberg" and only goes on to show "the epidemic of gibberish and irrational, senseless, preposterous material masqueraded as 'news'".
Over the past 77 days, all the prime-time news anchors have debated over various angles of Rajput's death and made serious insinuating allegations without an iota of fact/truth or proof, said the petitioner. Navalakha referred to a fact check done by Boom to claim how "Aaj Tak purportedly manufactured certain tweets and falsely reported the screenshots calling them real and attributing them as the actor's last tweets" to make his point.
The electronic and print media have categorically ignored the reprimands and advisories issued by the PCI, which is a statutory body, the affidavit said. "…The media, particularly the electronic media, since a few years has been indulged into journalism in complete defiance to the journalistic ethics and in complete violation of the programme code." Navalakha added that the minute "momentary bias strides in", the news, "then it's all propaganda and not news…"
The plea submitted that it "solely seek course-correction and not a gag order" and that this was the "right time" for media organisations, journalists, reporters to "introspect their modus operandi" since these "people need to play the role of a facilitator and not of a judge or propagandist."
"Impeccable standards of journalism": Republic TV to HC
Countering charges and criticism towards its daily coverage of Rajput's death, Republic TV highlighted its role in the system to bring the "truth before the public". It added that over time, the media's role has evolved from "mechanical reporting of facts" to "questioning the conduct and propriety of public figures and state machinery".
Referring to Rajput's case, Republic TV said that its "investigative journalism and persistent style of its team in asking the right questions has led to the law and order machinery waking up and taking note of the evidence that its investigative journalism has brought into the public domain."
The channel has "put forth a plethora of evidence of unimpeachable character" which point out the grave irregularities in the investigation. The Arnab Goswami-led news outlet—which has been facing flak for its sustained coverage surrounding this issue—sought the dismissal of the plea suggesting that the petition has been filed with an ulterior motive and aims to curtail freedom of speech. By praying for a temporary postponement of the media coverage, the plea was effectively seeking a "gag order" against all media houses that are similarly placed, Republic TV's affidavit read.
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