The drama and fiction being shown in the name of news by certain channels is against the interest of not only the genre but also the society in general, News Broadcasters Association (NBA) President Rajat Sharma told BestMediaInfo.com after India’s top brands asked news channels to stop being toxic or else they could pull the plug on advertising.
“We have seen videos of reporters going overboard, harassing witnesses, chasing those who have been called for questioning by agencies, even using four-letter words on air. It is not a secret who is doing it. The world over, we have seen advertisers and reputed brands withdrawing support from such hate-mongers. There should be a premium for news channels that follow ethics and codes,” he said in an interview.
Recently, the NBA, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, asked for more powers so that its Programme Code becomes binding to all the news channels, including non-members. How much would that be effective in controlling all that is wrong with the news channels?
We are not asking for more powers to NBA. We want that all news channels should be asked to follow the guidelines issued by News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA). Please understand that NBA and NBSA are two different bodies. Though NBSA was originally conceived by NBA for self-regulation, but under the leadership and guidance of Justice Verma and Justice Ravindran, it become a completely independent body, now headed by Justice Arjun Sikri, a former SC Judge with an impeccable record. NBSA has a clear and strict code of ethics for news broadcasters. NBSA over the years has helped news channels improve their content. It can now play a crucial role in controlling the toxic content. The problem is that the news channels under the scanner are not members of NBA. They don’t come under the purview of NBSA. We are not even asking them to become members of NBA. We are asking the Ministry of I and B to make it mandatory for all news channels to follow the code of ethics and guidelines issued by NBSA.
In your latest interview to Outlook, you said a “few channels” are giving a bad name to the entire genre but isn’t it the case that all the channels eventually fall for trivialisation to compete with those “few channels”?
There is a visible and clear cut distinction between NBA and non-NBA channels. Of course, NBA channels have to be competitive but they can’t afford to violate the NBSA guidelines. It is not easy to follow the code of ethics; NBA channels have to be on alert all the time. But what do you do about the news channels that make a mistake, get an adverse order, are asked to apologise by the judge, but refuse to follow the orders. Then they walk out of NBA. That’s why we are saying that they can form their associations, gangs or groups but it must be mandatory for all to follow the NBSA code of ethics and guidelines.
Advertisers say they do not mean to dictate news content and they are fine with editors taking sides/position, but it is the “live” aggression-abuses-fights-disrespect, which is making the environment scary for all, including their brands. And all of this is being done for their advertising money. They feel they can be purpose-led brands and bring some positive change where all the laws of the land, regulations and self-regulation seem to be failing in the name of freedom of expression. Shouldn’t NBA members create a safe environment for their advertisers?
Advertisers should make a distinction between channels that are unnecessarily aggressive, allow abuses and fights as part of their content. They should differentiate between the news channels that are invading privacy and creating high-voltage drama to draw attention. We have seen videos of reporters going overboard, harassing witnesses, chasing those who have been called for questioning by agencies, even using four-letter words on air. It is not a secret who is doing it. The world over, we have seen advertisers and reputed brands withdrawing support from such hate-mongers. There should be a premium for news channels that follow ethics and codes. Self-regulation and strict guidelines are key to a safe environment for brands and advertisers.
Bringing sanity back in news will eventually be in the interest of the entire genre, which will bring the trust of viewers across the spectrum. Shouldn't the NBA welcome the advertisers’ sentiments?
NBA not only respects the advertisers’ sentiments but urges upon advertisers to make a distinction between ethical and unethical channels, between sanity and insanity. We are aware that the recent toxic content has hurt the image of the entire news broadcasting industry. The drama and fiction being shown in the name of news by certain channels is against the interest of not only the genre but also the society in general. News channels and advertisers both have a certain responsibility towards the country. We cannot allow some of them to target people and spit venom on them day after day, and then get away with it.
Some NBA member channels are also seen going overboard, trivialising content, chasing cars, turning the studio into a high-voltage drama, airing fictional content, war-mongering, and what not. How justified is all that?
If any of our members indulge in such programming, I have no doubt they will have to face the music from NBSA.
There was a time when taking a religion’s name was prohibited in a case of conflict. Today, there is no conscience left and channels are using Hindu-Muslim openly. Legal terms like accused, convicts are long forgotten. Death is called murder despite the fact it is under investigation. Journalists have turned investigators. Do these things not hold any value or meaning now?
As fourth pillars of democracy, we are bound by the Constitution of India. NBA will not allow its members to disturb communal harmony or create a wedge between two communities. Journalists can investigate within the limits of code of ethics. NBSA guidelines don’t allow news channels to run a media trial or term a death as a murder. Working for news channels does not give us a licence to violate the law of the land.