All the news

All the news

From TV news overkill to government overkill

From Manyata Dutt to the CPM,from Hindu Jagruti to supporters of Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju,the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that news TV needs a touch of firm government. If they can’t abide by their

internally set standards,someone’s got to do it for them,they say. Now,a cabinet note,seeking amendments to the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994,wants the government “sufficiently empowered” to act against those violating their proposed code of conduct.

The code,of course,was prompted by the excesses of the Mumbai coverage,where over-eager TV channels gave away operationally sensitive details,tried their own parallel investigations,and lowered the discourse to a whole new plane of crassness. But while some of their suggestions are unobjectionable — like the way channels stick in a “live” caption even while replaying file shots — the amendments are a clumsy mix. The cabinet note objected to the “glamourising” of perpetrators of crime,which “tends to evoke sympathy”. Does that mean crime reports are henceforth to be moralising sermons? Or that they are now unwelcome? “Depictions of the emotions of living victims and relatives of deceased victims of crime,war and disaster” are also out. Are only stoical victims permissible now? As for the objection to “material that propagates superstition and occultism”,it’s difficult to believe that the average news channel knows where to draw the line between spirituality and occultism. Or that anyone does,really.

There is no question that the shoddy journalism,scandal-mongering and heaving emotionality on Indian television needs attention,but these amendments are themselves excessive. It must be remembered that the Mumbai botch-up was as much the administration’s failure to set boundaries. Television networks must abide by their own internally generated norms,but the government has no business legislating an appropriate level of emotion.