While Justice Markandey Katju is frothing at the mouth on the way news channels conduct themselves, news channel editors, in the form of the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA), have issued an internal memo on – hold your breath – guidelines for the coverage of Aishwarya Rai Bachhan’s soon to be born baby.
Here are the Ten commandments of the BEA:
•No pre-coverage of the event.
•Story of birth of the baby to be run only after, and on basis of, official announcement.
•Story not to run on breaking news band.
•No camera or OB vans at hospital or any other location related to the story.
•Go for photo-op or press conference if invited.
•Do not carry any MMS or photo of the child.
•No astrology show to be done on this issue.
•No 11.11.11 astro show to be done.
•The duration of story to be around a minute/ninety seconds.
•Unauthorised entry into hospital not permitted.
Rather than discuss the issue of paid news, the issue of balanced and fair reportage of political and business developments, getting two (or more) sides of a story, the appallingly insensitive and intrusive coverage of victims of terror, accidents and crime, the BEA comes up with this magnum opus. Let’s take the guidelines one by one.
•Story of birth to be run only after, and on the basis of, official announcement: So all the news TV outlets will wait for a press release. Incredibly well behaved – but misplaced responsibility. Why don’t channels wait for official judgments in court cases, official press releases from political parties and from government departments and ministries, etc?
•Story not to be run on breaking news band: Why? Last night, the three English news channels that I watched ran this ridiculous headline on the ticker: Earthquake rocks north India (or Kashmir). The fact is no earthquake struck north India (the earthquake had the epicentre in the Hindukush). That ticker is ok, but a ticker announcing a factual birth is not?
•No camera or OB vans at hospital or any other location related to the story: Why? It’s OK to park them outside houses of families where a victim has been killed and raped and ask a grieving mother, “How are you feeling?”, but it’s not okay to show the world a glimpse of a celebrating family?
•Go for photo op or press conference if invited: Same reaction as above. Cameras are at target’s residences and offices, residences and offices of friends and relatives of targets for every scam or crime that is reported. Why do news channels focus on Kanimozhi’s son and husband, who have nothing to do with the alleged crime she is accused of? Why can’t you wait for a press conference?
•Not carry an MMS or photo of the child: Same as above
•No astrology show to be done on this issue (I presume that the pun is unintended): Why? It’s all right to ask astrologers to pass ‘judgement’ on the longevity of ministers and governments even when we know that astrology is, kindly put, an inexact science, but not this ‘issue’. Why?
•No 11.11.11 astro show to be done: Why? Is it a problem with the date? What if the child is born on 12.11.11 or 10.11.11? Or any other date? Will you cancel all other astro shows on the channels?
•The duration of story to be around a minute/ninety seconds: Why? Do channels come to an agreement on the duration of story in the case of a young girl who has got raped in a UP village? Or, indeed on any other story in the world?
•Unauthorised entry into hospital is not permitted: Well, it’s unauthorised, so it’s not permitted. There’s no rocket science here.
It would have been different, and sublimely so, if these were guidelines on how news TV would deal with all personal events of public personalities and celebrities or were announced as a first step in getting their act together in the context of Justice Katju’s now-famous interview with Karan Thapar.
These guidelines are a poor and embarrassing effort to mollify Justice Katju – and, more importantly, Amitabh Bachchan, who blogged on the deteriorating standards of news channels in India.
What the editors have done by their guidelines is to ensure that each is a clone of each other, and what could have been a day of glorious voyeurism is reduced to a day of pedestrian idiot-box gazing.