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India's Broadcasters Adopt New Reporting Guidelines


Stung by criticism that their coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks was sensationalistic and endangered rescue operations, India's broadcasters have implemented voluntary guidelines to steer coverage of any future such events.

India's broadcasters have adopted sweeping guidelines covering reporting. The regulations, agreed to by the Indian National Broadcasters Association, cover the gamut from accuracy to sting operations. But the section receiving the most attention deals with coverage of national security operations.

Although the association was already working on new guidelines before November's terrorist attack on Mumbai, criticism of the live broadcast coverage of the 60-hour siege added pressure for India's commercial television news outlets to tone things down.

Retired Indian Chief Justice Jagdish Saran Verma is chairman of the association's ethics and standards authority, which drafted the regulations. He tells VOA News the strict guidelines should forestall calls by Indian politicians and others to impose stricter official regulations on news coverage.

"There should not be any need for any further regulation," he said. "Self-regulation by the broadcasters, based on these guidelines, will be sufficient."

The new broadcasters' code says live interviews with terror suspects should not be aired and broadcasters should not disclose details of ongoing operations involving national security.

During the Mumbai attack, blamed on Pakistani terrorists, Indian government officials severely criticized broadcasters here for live coverage allegedly revealing commando positions to the gunmen inside seized luxury hotels. One channel aired a telephone interview with a hostage taker.

Retired Judge Verma - a champion of judicial self-regulation during his career - says he only agreed to work with the broadcasters after becoming convinced they were serious about enacting and enforcing self-regulation.

"I thought they really were sincere about it. It's only then that I gave my consent," said Verma. "The authority which I head has the power to impose punishment if there's any violation, even to the extent of recommending canceling of [broadcasting] license."

Following the terror siege in India's commercial capital, critics in the media and government here widely condemned the around-the-clock coverage for airing unconfirmed rumors that nearly provoked panic - showing gory scenes, as well as sensationalistic rhetoric and military music.

That prompted India's Parliament to begin considering establishment of a regulatory agency for the mushrooming number of private news channels. Some TV journalists have defended their coverage, saying the government provided little real-time information and that they face too much competitive pressure in a 24-hour working environment.

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