Controlling The News Agencies: Draconian Or Necessary? – OpEd


The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has expressed “deep concern” over the one-day ban imposed on NDTV India by the interministerial committee set up by the Union information and broadcasting ministry. The NBA, which represents private television news and current affairs broadcasters in India, said the Hindi news channel had been “singled out when the rest of the media also did cover the (Pathankot) terror attack, and all such reports were available in the public domain”. The committee has ordered that the channel go off air for 24 hours from 00:01hrs on November 9 as it found its coverage of the January terrorist attack to be in violation of broadcasting norms.

The recent ban on NDTV, a private news channel in India over Pathankot terrorist attack coverage has received a lot of criticism from the journalistic fraternity. However when it comes to jeopardising National Security, the Government has the right to censor content shown on national television. The purpose of any censorship on the media should be pragmatic and not draconian in nature. Globally, the same set of parameters work for any censorship law, or body – Regulation of broadcast, print and all media services, creating acceptable code of conduct and ethics, ensuring complaint and feedback mechanism are in place, monitoring of digital spaces etc. Censorship does not mean suppressing all that is happening in the political arena, or the security arena or any arena for that matter. It simply means doing away with any kind of “Breaking News and Exclusives Phenomenon” which could create chaos and insecurity endangering National security. Whether it is an autocratic regime or a democratic establishment the currents and undercurrents in the media landscape are almost the same.

An independent press both strengthens and weakens the democratic mechanisms of good governance. Serious debates on Press censorship dominated the political corridors of India when the Indira Gandhi government, imposed restrictions on freedom of speech and expression during national emergency in 1975. The censorship was withdrawn in 1977. The levels of restrictions however remain a bone of contention between the State Run and the Private media establishments. Whether it is the OSA (1923), or the IT act (2007) the Indian establishment has mechanisms in place to prevent information attacks of any kind. In 2010, the Irish government was deliberating upon Internet filtering, reinforcing the graduated response mechanism in some ways to secure its digital space. In Erdogan’s Turkey several journalists have been jailed time and again for going against the establishment. In 2014 Russia had closed down a number of media outlets and restricted foreign investment in its press industry in the name of safeguarding national interests.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks and internal disturbances across the world, limited censorship and not absolute free press is what is required today. There was a time when terrorist explosions were covered by the print media and the radio, but monitored by official sources for factual correctness. Today, in the era of TRPs and corporate benefits, credibility has taken a back seat. Imagine a Charar E Sharif episode or any of the wars fought by the India Military against its notorious neighbour being shown live on TV today. Uncontrolled media, with the backdrop of TRP race and corporatisation, has the potential of changing the word order, and creating anarchy which will give rise to more chaos both psychological and social. The Danish cartoon controversy falls in place here. Even Movies which usually mirror society have an uncanny knack of showing us such things; case in point being the Pierce Brosnan star ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ in the James Bond series which depicted this race toward anarchy.

The unprecedented rise of the fourth estate is central to any understanding of conflict and conflict reporting today. The press plays a pivotal role in shaping perceptions about the Orwellian states, warring factions, generating fresh debates and discourses around existing conflicts and peace building measures. The paradigmatic shift to citizen journalism through social networks has also changed the dynamics of journalism today. Given the political and social ramifications of “free and fair reporting” versus “carefully scripted propaganda stories”, some reflections on changing role of the Fourth Estate would help us develop deeper insights into the functioning of the media landscape today.

The problem is that with the commercialisation of media houses and the corporate control on content, it becomes difficult to accept the credibility of news programs and debates. Some seem to be planted; others who report from ground zero tend to exaggerate sporadic events. Notwithstanding the fact that the media is profit driven, we still have ethical war correspondents who pass on factually correct information to the masses.

Lastly , says Noam Chomsky “ You don’t have any other society where the educated classes are so effectively indoctrinated and controlled by a subtle propaganda system – a private system including media, intellectual opinion forming magazines and the participation of the most highly educated sections of the population. Such people ought to be referred to as “Commissars” – for that is what their essential function is – to set up and maintain a system of doctrines and beliefs which will undermine independent thought and prevent a proper understanding and analysis of national and global institutions, issues, and policies.”

Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote

Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote is a Communication Professional, Research Scholar and a Defence Enthusiast. With an MA, MPHIL in International Relations, Political Science and Development Communications, Ms Hoskote regularly writes for Eurasia Review on subjects of geopolitical importance.

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