Self regulation and privacy

IN Law and Policy | 08/01/2014
Privacy violations and inaccurate reportage topped the latest complaints adjudicated by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA),
reports GEETA SESHU. PIX: DNA India

Privacy violations and inaccurate reportage topped the complaints before the News Broadcasting Standards Association (NBSA) and Chairperson, Justice (retd) R V Raveendran, as he issued warnings, imposed fines and directed apologies to be issued to complainants or broadcast on television. 

Interestingly, the orders come barely four days after the Supreme Court issued notice to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Indian Broadcasters Foundation, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the Association of Radio Operators India and the Advertising Standards Council of India on a writ petition filed by an Andhra Pradesh-based organisation, Media Watch-India, seeking a review of an independent regulatory authority and a grievance redressal mechanism for television and radio pending legislation. 

The NBSA is a body appointed by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to look into complaints of the violation of the NBA code of ethics.  

Privacy violations in four of the seven complaints that the NBSA adjudicated on, included the infamous instance of the coverage of partying students of the NALSAR University in Hyderabad by Sakshi Television, CNN-IBN displaying a slide with the name of a complainant in a sexual harassment matter, CNN-IBN carrying an interview of the father of a child rape victim during December 16, 2012 protests following the Delhi gangrape and by Aaj Tak that aired details of a matrimonial dispute. 

Other orders related to a complaint of inaccurate reporting against Aaj Tak by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) was upheld as there was no verification of facts in a story about a probable nexus between touts and booking clerks.  

A complaint on a satirical programme called ‘Bura na mano’ on ABP news channel about former Railway Minister Pawan Bansal was not upheld as the latter had chosen not to make any complaint! 

In a telling indication of the state of self-regulatory mechanisms, the complaint by NALSAR students was filed only against Sakshi Television, which is a member of the News Broadcasters Associaton (NBA). Of the channels that aired the programme, iABN Andhra Jyoti, TV 9, Studio N, N TV were not members of the NBA while TV 5 ceased to be a member of the NBA and News 24 and Sakshi TV are NBA members.  

The issue of privacy  

While the orders affirm the importance of privacy and the need to protect the identity of complainants in sexual violence cases, the larger issue on the need to protect the identity of complainants in sexual assault cases becomes acute especially as the media is hungry to obtain all manner of information about such incidents and the complainants. 

In the Tehalka sexual harassment case for instance, websites and mobile messages managed to pick up photographs of the complainant, aided by the leak of an email correspondence between the complainant and the Tehelka editor Shoma Chaudhary. The email was forwarded without deleting the name of the complainant and it didn’t take long for privacy violators and voyeurs to trawl the Internet for personal details of the complainant. 

In the gangrape of the journalist at Shakti Mills, Mumbai, overenthusiastic and insensitive journalists even landed up at her home, while she was still in hospital, startling the neighbours who had no clue about the journalist’s plight.  

Media professionals, academics and others have, time and again, issued statements and signed petitions exhorting the media to exercise restraint and pointed out that disclosure of identity is a serious violation of Sec 228 A of the Indian Penal Code.  

Oddly, the issue of privacy became a question of exhorting women to ‘come out’ and fight bravely and the importance of privacy – where people should have the right to exercise control of their identities and the disclosure of their private details, was lost. 

Other questions do remain – principally that of privacy being a right enjoyed by a few, protected vigorously by those with means and which invokes little protest or consciousness when the privacy of poor and disadvantaged victims of violence is violated. 

Summary of orders on upheld complaints 

Complaint against Sakshi TV: Four students of NALSAR filed a complaint on a programme entitled ‘Drunken girls hulchul midnight’ telecast on April 12, 2013. The complainants said they were departing from a private party when they were photographed and videographed and erroneous comments were made that they were drunk and ‘half-naked’. The attempts by the students to put forth their point of view were unsuccessful. Instead, the Andhra Pradesh Electronic Media Journalists Association (APEMJA) carried out a campaign against them, they alleged.  

Sakshi TV said that they aired the news after learning of a complaint filed against the students by ABP Adhra Jyothi to focus on pubs being open beyond licensed hours.  

The NBSA order stated that the broadcast violated the privacy of the individuals and imposed Rs One lakh fine on Sakshi TV within a week and directed that an apology in English and Telugu must be aired for three consecutive days from Jan 15, 2013, before the 8p.m. news. Besides, any video links of the programme must be removed. 

Complaint against CNN-IBN: A complaint was filed against a programme ‘Face the Nation’ - Phaneesh Murthy case: Is sexual harassment in work place a double edged sword? aired on May 22, 2013 on CNNIBN. CNN-IBN’s deputy editor Sagarika Ghose had anchored the programme.  

The complainant, who is herself a complainant in a long-pending sexual harassment case, said that her name was revealed in a slide and inaccurate information was given that an FIR was quashed, when in fact, the complaint filed in 2007, was still pending. 

By giving this news, the broadcaster had prejudiced matters and viewers would tend to believe that there was no case pending in any court of law, she contended.  

CNN-IBN, represented at the NBSA hearing by its legal counsel and its Director, News, said that information related to her case was in the public domain and their information was based on research regarding sexual harassment cases. The NBSA order said that the ‘broadcaster was unable to justify their action, especially with reference to Rule 4 of the ‘Guidelines on reportage of cases of sexual assault’ which provides that in reporting cases of sexual assault on women to respect their privacy, names, photographs and other details that may lead to disclosure of their identity should not be broadcast or divulged’. 

Holding the broadcaster in breach of these guidelines as well as in respect of provisions on accuracy, the NBSA issued a warning to CNN-IBN for breach of the NBA Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and Guidelines and also for willful violation of the ‘Guidelines on Reportage of Cases of Sexual Assault’. 

CNN-IBN was also directed to issue a written apology on the company letterhead to the complainant and has even provided the text for the apology. 

Complaint against Aaj Tak: The complainant said that Aaj Tak telecast a distorted story of her matrimonial dispute and carried false information about her marriage with another individual and said the broadcaster also implied she was responsible for the latter’s suicide. Unauthorised, her conversation with a journalist was also carried as a voiceover. 

The broadcaster denied the allegations and said she was asked for her version which was carried as a voiceover. The NBSA held that the broadcast was one-sided and that a lot of precious air time was spent by the news channel on the private lives of individuals who were not public figures. Aaj Tak was fined Rs One lakh to be paid to the NBA within a week besides airing an apology and the complainant’s version for three days from January 20, 2013. 

Complaint against CNN-IBN: The complaint related to a live telecast of the protest at India Gate, Delhi, after the December 16 gangrape when the father of a child rape victim was interviewed. However, his face was not covered or morphed and his identity could be established. NBSA first felt no action could be taken since the coverage should be viewed in the light of the larger perspective of the events and the ‘unstructured live telecast’.  

However, the complainant requested that this ex parte order be set aside and the complaint was re-considered. The channel maintained that the coverage of the child rape victim’s father was not pre-determined and that it sought to highlight the plight of a father seeking justice. However, the complainant felt that efforts could have been made to protect the identity of the father, even in a live programme. 

The NBSA felt there was a breach and have warned the channel to be more responsible in future. 

Complaint against CNN-IBN: The complainant, representing Mallige Medical Centre, Bangalore, regarding a programme entitled ‘Bangalore woman incapacitated after botched surgery’, alleged  that the channel carried a one-sided story on a sub judice matter without verifying a case pending before the Karnataka Medical Council. 

The NBSA upheld the complaint and warned the channel for breach of guidelines on reporting the injured and the ill. It has directed that an apology be telecast on January 10, 2013 before the 9p.m. news. 

Complaint against Aaj Tak: The complainant, General Manager of IRCTC said that a sting operation by the channel called ‘Dalal Junction’, aired on March 24, 2013, alleged that there was a nexus between touts and booking clerks. There was no complaint of ICRTC involvement or even reference to its personnel being involved. Yet, the tagline of the programme said “ICRTC ki website par ghadbad jhala’. The channel contended that their intention was to show how touts operated and they tried to get the ICRTC version. 

The NBSA maintained that due diligence was not shown and that there was no impartiality or accuracy in reporting. The channel was directed to tender an apology for five consecutive days from January 13, 2013 and remove video links, if any.

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