@FF12: NBSA chief suggests independent regulation for media

19 Mar,2012

By A Correspondent


In 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru said that freedom of speech should be granted to good and bad editors, but they should use it in national interest for he believed that if it is left to the government to decide, the good editors will be jailed and the only the chamchas will survive. This was the opening Justice JS Varma, former chief justice, Supreme Court and  News Broadcasters Standards Association (NBSA) Chairperson used for his keynote address for the session ‘Freedom of Media: Significance of self regulation’.


Justice Varma said that freedom of speech is precious and we have to preserve it. The way to do so is self regulation as the media is mature enough to know to do it themselves and ward off the danger of state regulation.


He said that it is not media’s right but rather an obligation to keep the people informed so that they can participate in government decision making process. It is the media’s duty to ensure transparency to ensure accountability.


Justice Varma emphasised that the media should not give the government a chance to step in and hold it accountable. He said that the media (which reports) and judiciary (which decides) are the two strongest pillars of our democracy and they shouldn’t use their strength (power) to harm anyone, lest their power be curtailed due to lack of their accountability.


Moving on, Justice Varma criticised the media, especially the broadcast media’s tendency for breaking news. He said that the key tenets of journalism should be kept in mind while reporting ‘breaking news’- is it true, fair and in public interest. He said that objectivity and due diligence must be applied while covering news. He cautioned the media, which has tremendous reach, to be cautious in its reporting as the effect of the news it flashes is instantaneous. He closed his address by saying “The more potential for damage, the more is the accountability you have”.


The moderator, Barun Das, Zee News CEO and Vice President, News Broadcasters Association (NBA) spoke about how the media can’t be regulated as it is an essential pillar of democracy. He opined that free media can be good or bad but media which is not free can never be good.


Mr Das said that regulation is a process of evolution. The media needs to introspect and understand where it stands.


He outlined the dilemmas faced by the media while trying balance the content and the bottomline where news is trivialised for gaining eyeballs. The broadcast media especially is constantly grappling with trying to strike a balance between what the audience ‘would like to see’ and what they “should see”.


The stage was then thrown open for the panel discussion. Each of the panellist was given time to speak and answer questions by the moderator.


The discussion was opened by KVL Narayan Rao, executive vice chair person NDTV and President, NBA.


Mr Rao said that there is no question of compromise on the fact that that media is free and that is the way it should be in a democracy. He said thatIndiais the largest free news market with a reach of 500 million households (news TV reaching nearly 115 million households).


He said that in the early 2000s, after the private players were allowed in, they got together to set up the NBA to set up a code of programming and ethics which will regulate their broadcasting. He emphasised that it was important to have an independent and respected authority to keep a vigil on what is happening in the industry. He was proud of the fact that they telecast a scroll reminding the viewers that they have a forum to go to if they have any complaints.


He also spoke about the NBSA which has been an advisory to the media with regards to improvement in news coverage and takes up issues suo moto if the media is found lacking.


When questioned by Mr Das about balance or conflict on interest between news and business, Mr Rao was emphatic that there should be a “Chinese wall separating news and commercial interests”. He opined that news is to inform, educate and entertain the public independent of government and advertisers. He allowed that some compromise may take place but said that with digitisation, more cost can be spent on content and hence the scenario will change.


Next to take the mike was Nitin Desai, Former under Secretary General, United Nations and member NBSA.


Mr Desai started by saying that he disliked the term self regulation and “independent regulation would be a more appropriate term”. He said that emphasis should be given to developing the independent regulation in such a way that it is credible in the eyes of the media, the people and the view makers.


His main concern was about the emergence of new media and challenges presented to regulate it.  He reiterated the need for due diligence to be given to fair and unbiased reporting, rights of an individual to privacy and avoiding trial by media.


He said that he had already noticed a change in the fact that the mindset of the editors and the non-media members on the NBSA was converging due to the internalising the sense of responsibility.


When questioned about the trivialisation of content, Mr Desai said that it was being done as the measurements showed that the audience preferred it. He said that there was a need for a different measuring system for news channels. He also opined that news channel have to stop behaving like money making operations and take responsibility to cover news that “people should know”.


Phillip Turner, Chief of Bureau, CNN International, South Asia said thatIndiahad a long tradition of journalism but we tended to forget it. He emphasised that focus should be on stories that have a relevance to the rest of the world and maintaining the integrity of the media. He agreed with Mr Desai that the new media is presenting a challenge for regulation but he was of the opinion that everything would work out if the media stuck to the basic tenets of journalism – fair, relevant, responsible and accurate reporting.


When asked about the need for a NBA-like worldwide authority, he wasn’t sure that such a platform could work globally.


Kiran Karnik, member NBSA and former president of NASSCOM spoke about the challenges of new media. He said that today, when the news is available instantly as reported by citizen journalists and through the new media, it is the responsibility of the media to separate what is true and what is not. He also opined that news media today has shifted from reporting news to making news. He cautioned them to use the power they have responsibly by maintaining their standards and not infringing on the rights of the people.


When questioned on the challenges thrown up by the new media, he agreed that technology is not amenable to censorship and also the consumer is becoming the creator and consumer. But he emphasised that there should be zero tolerance for unverified news and the news media as the aggregators of news should use their own censors.


Mr Das wrapped up the session by stating that now is the time to convert challenges into opportunities and inclusive growth through media is the way forward.


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