India's Information and Broadcasting Ministry has issued warnings to television news channels about doomsday stories which spread panic this week. The TV newscasts dramatized the end of the world in reporting on Wednesday's so-called "Big Bang" machine, which in reality is called the Large Hadron Collider. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in New Delhi reports.
Two Hindi-language cable and satellite television news channels have been officially admonished by the government for their coverage of this week's launch of a particle-smashing machine at a European laboratory. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry warned the broadcasters, India TV and Aaj Tak, which has an affiliation agreement with VOA, for spreading misinformation, fear and horror, among the public.
In the days leading to the launch of the ion collider under the French-Swiss border, the channels repeatedly aired dramatic scenes depicting the end of the world. The newscasts cited worries, ridiculed by scientists, that the unprecedented experiment could create a black hole and destroy the planet.
Some people feared the worst after watching the dire visual images of Armageddon. A suicide of a teenaged girl is blamed on the doomsday reports.
Media critic Poonam Saxena of the Hindustan Times says broadcasters are sometimes over-zealous in trying to capture the lucrative mass-market audience.
"There are a lot of Hindi news channels now and there is cut-throat competition for television ratings, so a lot of them have gone the tabloid way. Their coverage and reportage of various news events, when there is crime or anything else, tends to be often sensational and it does tend to be irresponsible, at times," said Saxena. "There are a lot of Hindi news channels and there is cut-throat competition for television ratings, so a lot of them have gone the tabloid way. Their coverage and reportage of various news events, be it crime or anything else, tends to be often sensational and it does tend to be irresponsible, at times."
The Ministry says it has notified two broadcasting organizations to tell its members to refrain from airing such sensationalist content and take more care in selecting their news items.
Naresh Chahel is the Secretary-General of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation.
"We have immediately sent it to all the news channels and asked them to take care of this thing," said Chahel.
Chahel declined to offer an opinion on where the Indian government should draw the line in attempting to regulate broadcast news content.
But Media critic Saxena opposes the government interfering with what is aired.
"The ideal solution would be self-regulation and self-censorship. And I think the government should not really have a role to play in this," added Saxena.
India's government last year temporarily banned international channels Fashion TV and AXN, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, for airing what it termed "indecent content".
Critics and regulators are certain to scrutinize broadcast news coverage here leading up to the October 21 full launch of the Large Hadron Collider. That is when opposing high-energy protons traveling near the speed of light will be shot at each other in the 30-kilometer long tunnel, a scenario intended to replicate what happened seconds after the birth of the Universe.
Several attempted legal injunctions in the United States and Europe to halt the experiment on safety grounds have been rejected by courts.