When the electronic media decided to go easy on the Bachchans by excluding Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s delivery from news coverage, their online divisions went to town with a literal minute by minute analysis of the situation (considering the lack of any updates to report).
In the last one week, there have been over 4.3 Lakh mentions
of the delivery. Of this, almost 600 stories
were reported by leading news portals. From the speculation of the baby’s birth date being 11.11.11, hospital visits by the actress, fake news of the birth, betting on Baby B and the manner of birth
, everything was covered the way a national crisis would be. Some portals even posted pictures of the family reportedly checking in to the hospital
, perhaps in a bid to outdo the competition.
While the BEA Guidelines
(Broadcast Editor’s Association) sought responsible and sensitive coverage, they seem to have turned a blind eye to the online divisions of their channels which participated in the coverage frenzy. Did the BEA not anticipate that such a loophole could be taken advantage of? Or were these guidelines issued to merely to pacify the new PCI Chief’s tirade
against broadcasting celebrities and fashion? Surprisingly, while these guidelines were widely reported by the media, the BEA website
itself carried no information on this.
For starters, the 10 point-guideline, as reported by the media, was shallow. No news organization highlighted this, possibly because they were in the midst of chasing the bigger story – Baby B’s birth. Let us analyse some of the guidelines that were reported.
1. No pre-coverage of the event – How do you define Pre-coverage? The broadcast media (and its online portals) have been actively reporting the Bachchan pregnancy since it was announced in June.
2. The story of the birth and baby to be run after official announcement from the family – Considering everything from what Aishwarya ate and wore to when she was admitted in the hospital was covered, what would be left of “the story of the birth”? The baby would obviously have to be born before anyone reported about its birth. As for official communication, only tweets sent by the father and grandfather were used in the news reports. Since when have we started considering tweets as official announcements? In the past there have been several instances of celebrity tweets being “mis-interpreted” by the media leading to “formal” clearing up of the air at press conferences.
3. No outdoor broadcast vans are to be placed outside the hospital – The lady is not having her delivery in a government hospital. She has opted for a private fortress of a hospital in the full knowledge that 17 acres of land surrounded by considerable security and a massive entrance, will not allow any clear visuals for broadcast on TV. Even if one was to shoot the story via helicopter, they wouldn’t get visuals. Had OB vans been allowed outside the hospital, would journalists do a live broadcast of her admission to the hospital at 11:30 pm? Mostly not, considering it is way past prime time.
4. TV Channels can go for photos ops only if invited by the Bachchans – Unless you are signing an exclusive deal with a magazine for the rights of certain pictures, or want to be in the bad books of certain media, there is no way you can be selective about inviting the media. The Bachchans, having done it once before for the Abhi-Ash marriage, would rather not call any media than be selective. In that case, the Indian paparazzi would resort to other means to get pictures, like they normally do with any celebrity.
5. Channels to not run any astrology shows related to 11.11.11 – How absurd is this? What has 11.11.11 got to do with Baby B? We did not have a similar guideline banning astrology shows on 10.10.10 and nor will we have one for 12.12.12. Why this?
6. TV Crews and Cameras to leave the venue after 15 minutes of the event - What would be the event in question? A glimpse of Baby B or an interview with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan? Who will ensure the media leaves on time? The guidelines specifically say this is a self regulating measure to avert greater tragedy/ disaster and reference was made to coverage of the Ayodhya issue and the demise of Mohammed Azharuddin’s son. But Baby B’s birth is a happy occasion. Is it realistic to expect that the media would remain on ground only for 15 minutes? After all, the media would want to get some candid pictures also.
The biggest question remains – why were these guidelines issued specifically for the Bachchan family? Why not introduce better guidelines for general reporting? After all everyone’s dignity and privacy needs to be protected – be it the Bachchan bahu or India’s symbolic seven billionth child Nargis or a rape victim.
The problem with guidelines is that they show no clear benefit for the organizations complying with them. Their non-enforceable nature means that they are ignored in a bid to keep the organization as competitive as its peers. Because guidelines are not enforceable, they are vague and hence no one takes them seriously.
The solution is to ensure that the editorial and the advertising/ business divisions sit together and take a call on how they want to conduct themselves. Internal guidelines must be developed and these must be stricter, and clearer than those issued by external bodies. Moderation in coverage can be best met by self-regulation.