A sting operation aired by a TV channel on Thursday morning has once again revived the debate on the need for a content code for the electronic media.
A content code, proposed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, could have helped stop the telecast and prevent the subsequent mob fury as it prohibits physical identification of the place of the accused as well as the victim.
Moreover, it brings privacy laws into force and asks television channels to differentiate between private and public interest. “Only programmes in large public interest can be shown,” says the code while clearly defining public interest.
Although most experts believe the sting was clearly in public interest, they admit physical identification of the place should not have been done. “It should have been left to the police to take action against the accused,” an I&B Ministry official said.
The content code’s chapter on news channels says that TV channels should take appropriate steps to prevent a law and order situation arising from the telecast of a certain news item.
Seba Farooqui of the All India Democratic Women Association, however, justified the sting, saying it had revealed the culprit while forcing students into flesh trade. “No one can imagine that a teacher can do such a thing to her own students. It is most horrible,” she said.
PN Vasanti of the Centre for Media Sciences, which helped the I&B Ministry draft the content code, said it imposes certain restrictions so that the identity of the child shown in a sting operation is not revealed. “I should admit that it is very difficult to draw a line between public and private interest. This incident would not have taken place had the new content code been applicable,” she said.
Experts like Vasanti said sting operations arise from intense competition among television channels for TRP ratings that drive the advertisers towards the channel.
“The entire TRP system is flawed as only a few thousand television metres speak about popularity of programmes seen in about a crore cable television homes in India,” she said.
TAM, which comes out with TRP ratings, however, claims their rating system is foolproof.
The content code also empowers the Broadcast regulator to seek a reply from the television channel for showing a certain sting operation.
The code prohibits the telecast of a recorded conservation without the permission of the person being interviewed. Sting operations in public interest are allowed in the new content code. Recently, I&B Secretary Asha Swarup said sting operations in private interest should not be encouraged. “The government does not want to interfere in the ways of news gathering, but private matter, which is not of public cause, should not be reported,” she said.