Self regulation not good enough

BY Report| IN Media Practice | 13/12/2008
The Committee is in favour of having statutory regulations in place covering the print and electronic media, in the larger interest of the society.
Recommendations of the Rajya Sabha’s Committee on Petitions on a gamut of media issues. Pix: Operation Black Tornado.

Press Release:                                       Committee on Petitions, Rajya Sabha

12/12/2008

 

CoP PRESENTS ITS 132 REPORT

 

The Committee on Petitions of Rajya Sabha under the Chairmanship of Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, has prepared its 132 report on the petition regarding misuse of right to freedom of speech and expression by print and electronic media and the need to restrict it under article 19 (2) of the Constitution, and presented by the Hon¿ble member of the CoP, Shri Ramchandra Kuntia to the Rajya Sabha, here today.

 

The petition was preferred to the Council of States by Shri Gurjit Singh of Patiala, with the prayer to check the growing tendency amongst the police officials to pose themselves with the alleged accused for photographing before the media which led the society to treat him as an accused even if he declared innocent by the court of law by the due process of law. This is according to the petitioner against one of cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence which purports that the alleged accused is presumed to be innocent unless and until his/her guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubts. Further the trend within the media offering judgment on such arrest of all alleged accused prejudicially affect the administration of criminal justice system.

 

Publication of photographs of the alleged accused by the media particularly electronic media led to pronouncement of judgment by the society even before the case reaches to the court for to fair trial as a result of which he/she lives with social stigma, which could not be compensated in monetary term. He had prayed for constitutional amendment to Article 19 (2) to ensure reasonable restrictions on the pre-publication of photographs of alleged accused.

 

The Committee has held wide consultations with Press Council of India, representatives of regional print and electronic media, eminent journalists, legal luminaries, ministries of Information & Boradcasting, Home Affairs and Law & Justice so as to formulate its recommendations which are summarized below:

 

The police and some sections of the seemingly enthusiastic Media, may have to share the responsibility for the irreparable damage caused to the character and career of the alleged accused, who is yet to be convicted by the court of law in fair trial.  Such acts of the police and the media reduce the test identification parade by the police for the purpose of investigation, under Section 54A[1] of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to a mere formality as the exhibition of photographs of the alleged accused might sub-consciously influence the victims/witnesses to identify the alleged accused from amongst persons joining the identification parade. In the recent BMW  hit and run case in Delhi, the alleged accused, who is the son of an industrialist, has refused to join the identification parade on the pretext that exhibition of his photographs by the TV channels has exposed his identity and the identifier may have certain pre-conceived notions against him.   The Committee,  while adverting to the guidelines framed by the Supreme Court, in the case of Dilip K. Basu Vs. State of West Bengal (1997 1 SSC 476), pertaining to protection of alleged accused from custodial violence, makes the following observations:

 

Police must desist themselves from exposing the alleged accused to the media prior to his conviction.  Where the media is present prior to the arrest of the alleged accused, it is the police which should remind the alleged accused of his right to be protected from the glare of media; he may be provided a piece of cloth to cover his face during his/her arrest in the presence of media.  The Ministry of Home Affairs may sensitize the police through their advisories to the States and if need be, suitable provisions may be included in the Police Manual for strict compliance.

 

The Committee feels that the electronic media should not air information gathered through sting operation unless and until there is ample evidence to conclusively prove the guilt of the alleged accused; if it is required in public interest, the version of the alleged accused should also  be aired simultaneously and with equal prominence.  In the case of an innocent school teacher in Delhi, who was acquitted by fair trial, of the allegations levelled in a sham sting operation, the media has damaged her image and reputation beyond repair.  The Committee is of the considered view that there is need for abundant caution in embarking upon sting operation as it involves the invasion of the right to privacy of a person, even though the right to know may take precedence over right to privacy, in public interest.  Where a sting operation is found to be false and fabricated, the media company ought to be given stringent punitive punishment commensurate with the damage caused to the innocent individual.  It is however not the intention of the Committee to recommend curtailment of the freedom of the Press and it is also not in favour of a constitutional amendment, as prayed by the petitioner but at the same time the abuse of the said freedom by a section of the media for creating sensation, achieving pecuniary benefit and enhancing their TRPs, has to be checked in public interest. The right of media always comes with a duty - duty to report fairly, objectively and accurately. That duty attracts restrictions and limitations which protect the right of an individual. The Committee is of the view that freedom of the press  is essential for healthy functioning of democracy; however, democracy comes with responsibility.  Freedom of the press cast responsibility on media as well.  The Committee, therefore, expects the media to contribute to success of democracy by protecting the freedom of individual including his/her right to privacy.  The Committee observes that even though the right to know takes precedence over the right to privacy, the right to privacy should not be encroached upon, under the garb of freedom of the Press unless prompted by genuine public interest.  Therefore, the Committee advocates following of a middle path approach between both the rights, to meet the ends of justice.

 

Expression of views and making analyses of the news by the news channels, and the latest trend of the press conferences being held by police officers and  live telecast thereof, have  become a regular affair. Telecasting views on the news relating to  the arrest of an alleged accused and airing of press conference by the police, tantamount to the trial by media which may have prejudicial impact on the witnesses, the accused and  the administration of criminal justice in general and it may also affect the judge sub-consciously. In a recent double murder case in Noida, speculative stories by certain news channels and the much touted press conferences by police officers being telecast live, have  dented the image of the alleged accused beyond repair inasmuch as the father of the victim was condemned before the actual trial had commenced. At the same time, the Committee would like to acknowledge the fact that in certain high profile murder cases, the vigilance of the media resulted in the dispensation of justice to the victims and their family members who have otherwise lost all hopes of getting justice under the present system.

 

The Committee has taken note of the recent direct live telecast of the sixty hours Operation Black Tornedo by the security forces to combat terrorist attack in Mumbai particularly on Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace Hotels and Nariman House, by news channels.  It included live feed of air dropping of NSG commandoes on the rooftop of Nariman House which had taken away the element of surprise and was critical and crucial in the operation of Black Tornedo.  The Committee apprehends that the live footage shown by TV channels to the viewers, could also have been used as free intelligence input by the perpetrators sitting far away from the place of incident who allegedly guided the attackers to take appropriate emergent measures against the positions of security forces through satellite/mobile phones.  Such live feed of Commandoes being air dropped directly endangers the success of operations and safety of hostages as well as security forces.  The Committee noted that the live coverage was partially restricted later because of some good sense prevailing with suitable advisories.  Needless to mention self regulation by media otherwise was not in place.  The Committee expects the media to treat information of sensitive nature carefully and endeavour to ensure that the interest of Nation and lives of security forces and hostages in such type of operation  is not jeopadarised by live telecasting such nature of  operations.

 

The Committee has also expressed concern over the repeated display in the media, of human corpses in case of natural calamities, accidents, incidents of bomb blast, arson, etc., which causes negative  psychological impact on the viewers. News channels in many foreign countries do not telecast the footage of dead bodies.  The Committee desires that similar approach may be adopted by the news channels in our country.

 

The Committee is aware of the existing regulatory mechanism of  the print media which is in place for almost three decades. The Committee has been informed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that proposals are under consideration to grant more powers to the Press Council of India to regulate the Print Media. In this context, the Committee recommends the Government to process the matter expeditiously and come out with appropriate amendment to the Press Council of Act, 1978.

 

The Committee is of the view that self-regulation is an ideal situation but it may not be effective to regulate the media particularly in the scenario of growing competition amongst the channels for supremacy in the business of ratings.  The Committee is, therefore, in favour of having statutory regulations in place covering the print and electronic media, in the larger interest of the society, on the model of the Press Council of India vested with more powers.  The Committee understands that the Government has proposed to put in place the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) under an Act of Parliament and a new Content Code to be issued thereunder. The Committee expects the Government to address all the issues raised by it, while going ahead with the proposed legislation. The Committee hopes that the proposed Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill will incorporate the views of all concerned and the same introduced in Parliament without further delay. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

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