If the news broadcasters' attempt to self-regulate themselves works, you will not be seeing endless footage of the Babri Masjid demolition playing on news bulletins this week.
The News Broadcasters' Association (NBA) issued specific guidelines to its member-channels on their coverage of the Allahabad High Court's judgment in the Ayodhya title suit, expected on September 24. In view of the “ultra-sensitive nature of the case…The telecast of any news relating to it should not be sensational, inflammatory or be provocative,” said the statement issued on Friday.
The guidelines on visuals made it clear that “no footage of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be shown in any news item relating to the judgment” and “no visuals need be shown depicting celebration or protest of the judgment.”
Similarly, there is to be no speculation about the judgment before it is pronounced, or of likely consequences after the verdict, which could be provocative. Instead, all related news “should be verbatim reproduction of the relevant part of the said judgment uninfluenced by any opinion or interpretation,” said the statement.
Editors have been asked to take extra care in vetting all reporting at the highest level. The NBA asked for “strict adherence,” warning that any violation “may attract strict action.” The heads of major channels said they would comply with the “spirit of the guidelines,” though it was up to each channel to decide the methods to implement them. Several channels have already carried special programming on the verdict, going over the history of the case and replaying the demolition footage.
These guidelines come after the Union Cabinet appealed for peace and order to be maintained in the aftermath of the judgment. Leaders of political parties and religious bodies have also been calling for a peaceful acceptance of the verdict.
However, channels emphasised that this was a voluntary initiative on their part and not in response to any governmental instruction. “It must be understood that this is compliance out of self-regulation, not due to any government pressure,” said Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Times Now. “It shows the immense maturity of the news channels today. It dispels any notion that they are irresponsible.”
“I don't think this should be seen as censorship,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief of the IBN18 network. “It simply means we must absorb the basic principle of self-restraint...one of the important lessons we have learnt.”