Things don’t seem to be going very well for NDTV. Forget “Acche Din”, even average “Din” have deserted NDTV group. The company is saddled with losses. It has a tax case against it alleging crores of evasion. As far as TRP’s are concerned, it languishes near the bottom among English News channels. Barkha Dutt’s show for example had hit NDTV so hard, that she rescheduled her show from the 9pm slot to 8pm. Just a few months back we had revealed how some “bot accounts” were seen propping up NDTV stories on social media. Now they are hit with something worse.
The issue of showing counter terrorism operations live on TV has been debated for long. This irresponsible aspect of live news was witnessed first during the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 when Indian news channels almost acted as source of information for terror handlers.
The journalistic fraternity initially tried to defend their stand claiming it was their duty to bring truth to the viewers, however later they conceded that the media needs to realise the consequences of their actions. Showing counter operations live doesn’t serve any public interest, and it can only be misused by terror handlers.
Even at that time NDTV had particularly been criticised by the netizens for showing operations live. A blogger named Chaitanya Kunte had published a post titled “Shoddy Journalism” where he had blasted Barkha Dutt for her live coverage of Mumbai terror attacks.
The post went viral and earned a legal notice from Barkha Dutt, who objected to one paragraph where the blogger had cited Wikipedia to remark that Barkha was earlier responsible for some casualties during Kargil War, where she had gone for live reporting.
The blogger got scared and deleted his post, offering an unconditional apology to Barkha. This was perhaps the tipping point that made Barkha a villain in the digital world.
While Barkha still denies the Kargil casualty claim, she later admitted that the Mumbai terror attacks coverage could have been handled better by the media.
“There were some unwitting mistakes made by all of us as journalists. Unwitting. We didn’t calculate that there were handlers monitoring our broadcast in real time, no one from the government told us either,” she said in an interview last year.
However, it doesn’t seem like media has learnt from the mistakes it committed, especially NDTV. But luckily, it seems the Government, which was the fall-guy for Barkha last time, has got its act right this time. Maybe its the new dispensation which is not any more in her reach (read Radia Tapes).
On January 28th this year, the Information and Broadcasting ministry sent a show cause notice to NDTV India over its coverage of the terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase which “prima facie” violated norms. The I&B ministry had repeatedly asked for restraint by TV channels in their reporting of terror attacks especially when the operation is still on. Last year, the ministry had barred channels from airing live coverage of anti-terrorist operations by security forces by approving a new rule as per which broadcasters in such situations will have to restrict themselves to reporting periodic briefing by designated officers.
It now appears that the proceedings in the above matter have been completed, and NDTV India, has been ordered to be shut down temporarily by the government for their irresponsible coverage during the Pathankot terror attack in January this year.
Sources have told us that an Inter-ministerial committee of the Information and Broadcasting ministry (IMC) set up to look into this matter has recommended that the channel go off for one full day. IMC noted with “grave concern” that the channel had “revealed sensitive details like location of ammunition depot and the place where terrorists were held up, location of school and residential areas”. The IMC also noted that “NDTV India appeared to give out the exact location of the remaining terrorists in the Pathankot airbase attack during the live telecast”
NDTV India responded by saying that the information shared by the them was already reported in the National dailies. The IMC however observed that the guidelines governing the TV channels and Newspapers are different. They noted that “the reach of TV Is beyond physical borders and language barriers” and that “TV as an audio/visual medium have a far wider and instantaneous impact”. It appears the IMC is trying to draw a distinction between printing that an army post is in a particular town, versus actually showing the physical location of the post via videos and images, thereby making it easier to be located.
IMC analysed that the disclosure of sensitive information when anti-terrorist operations are underway causes alarm, “demoralisation of citizens and security forces” and collateral damage among other issues. IMC also observed that the information released on NDTV India “was neither based on nor limits to the information given in the media briefing by designated armed forces officers”
IMC noted that “threat to National Security cannot justified on any grounds whatsoever”, hence “no benefit of doubt could be given for their subjective interpretation as mentioned in the representation given by the channel”. IMC also took cognisance of the fact that this was not the first violation by NDTV group and that “there are previous incidents where the channel has violated the Program code in the Cable act”
NDTV can actually heave a sigh of relief since IMC had initially recommended a penalty of taking the channel off-air for 30 days, as per the new rules introduced in June 2015. However, eventually they settled for a “token cut” of one day, since this was the first instance of violation of the newly inserted provisions in the program code. The IMC noted that this one day token penalty cut was recommended to ensure that NDTV India does not get away completely for this “huge indiscretion and violation of rules. ”
Such penalties of going off air for TV channels are not completely new though. Another IMC of the I & B Ministry had found that Al-Jazeera channel had violated the programme code by showing wrong maps of India on repeated occasions and recommended that it be taken off air for five days in 2015. In contrast, NDTV got away with the same offence, by just putting up a text of apology, as noted in this article.
Early this year, NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar had begun sermonising the world, on how media should report matters. He took a dramatic approach, by turning the screen black and proceeding on a monologue, where only the audio could be heard. With this latest indictment of his journalistic practices, Ravish can very well repeat his theatrics, but this time without the audio as well. The black screen may be for just a day, but the black spot of shame will always remain on NDTV.