MEDIA AND ETHICS

INTRODUCTION

“Where the air does not reach, there the media will reach.” Media, the only way to know the situations from every corner of the universe to the each domain of the world. Press, media is commonly known as the Fourth Estate or the fourth power because it significantly influences the society even though it is not expressly recognised as a part of the country’s political system. Communication can be used as a synonym of Media. It plays a role of ‘butter slice’ between our three pillars of democracy, i.e., legislature, executive and judiciary. From what will be done, how will it be done, by whom it will be done, why it needs to be done, where it to be done till how they did, why they did, how it should be done, how it should not to be done all these would be answer by the whole and the sole authority i.e., Media. The impact of this body is all over and all the sectors whether it be political, legal, social are within its ambit. The influence of Journalism is very hefty which jolt even an immovable thing. There might be a difference in procedure or in conduct of Journalism activities, but the purposes to serve and facilitate the people will remain the same throughout. The objective of the media is to serve the democracy with information, situations, circumstances, opinions, objectives in a decent, accurate, fair, equitable and unbiased manner. The role and function of Journalism have always been in the interest of the public at large.

News, entertainment, education, data, and promotional messages are sent world-wide through this type of communication channels. Every broadcasting and narrowcasting medium, like newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, billboards, direct mail, telephone, fax, and internet are part of what is the Media depending on the sense intended.1

The words ‘just, fair, and equitable’ plays a very significant role in each and everyone’s life, whether a party concerned or not. The impact of these words was very grave that subsequently the basic limitation was carved out from their indisputable power and the name of this limitation was Ethics. Though the word ‘ethics’ is nowhere defined, but this word is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ which means “character”. Ethics is much more than a moral, religious, or legal concept. Ethics cannot be inserted forcefully neither it’s a innate thing, it is something which the society teaches, circumstances introduce the value and effect of the situation. Media Ethics is also similar, it tells what needs to be communicated that welfares the public and prevail their interest. To cover a news or a story is not the greatest things, but how you portray the things is the sole concept of ethics.

The well known fact is what we see that effects long rather than what we listen vis-a-vis a person cannot be held guilty unless the guilt proved. The role of media in this whole situation must be ethical, media has the power to characterise in any way they want and here the ethics relates to the image, character, and above all truth must be taken into consideration while portray.

CURRENT STATISTICS

The Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry is a lucrative and gainful sector of the Indian economy. The M&E industry is undoubtable one of the most successful industry and the huge public support is strengthening the industry to raise its root to the world.
The Indian advertising industry is projected to be the second fastest growing advertising market in Asia after China.

Presently the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is chaired by Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, she stated that the Indian Media and Entertainment industry, mainly the broadcasting sector, are at the peak of a strong growth phase.
The Indian media & entertainment sector is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13.9 per cent, to reach US$ 37.55 billion by 2021 from US$ 19.59 billion in 2016, outshining the global average of 4.2 per cent.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF MEDIA LAWS

  1. A  Press Regulations, 1799: The Media laws in India have a long and a wide history. However, there was neither any press regulation nor any media law until the British East India Company started ruling India, but thereafter it circulated in the country’s colonial experience under their rule. The foremost regulatory measures can be Press Regulations, which was introduced by Lord Wellesley in the year 1799, which had the effect of imposing pre-censorship on an infant newspaper

    publishing industry.

  2. B  Gagging Act, 1857: Later on June 18, 1857 the Gagging Act was passed by the Government,

    which introduce compulsory licensing for the running and owning of a printing press, but at the same time the government was empowered with certain and undisputed power like the prohibition on publication or circulation of any newspaper, book or other printed material having a tendency to degrade the image of government and thereby wearing its authority.

  3. C  Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867: PRB Act is still in force till date. It governs the publication of newspapers in our country.
  4. D  Vernacular Press Act, 1978: This act was introduced by Governor General of British India ‘Lord Lytton’ in the year 1978. This act empowers government to strike down any publications or writings which deemed seditious to the government and also imposes penalties and punishment on the publishers or editors who acted beyond the ambit.
  5. E  Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908: This act was promulgated by ‘Lord Minto’. This act empowers local authorities to forfeit the powers of the printing press if the published material deemed to incitement of any offence.

CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY

The Constitution of India does not specifically recognise any Article on Press or Media and also it does not expressly or separately contain anything about freedom of the press.
Article 19 (1) (a) of The Constitution of India state that “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. The fundamental right of the freedom of the press is inclusive in the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Ethics is something which governs a person, body or a corporation either morally, socially or legally. However, ethics determine the restrictions on the power and freedom of the press. Article 19 (2) is similar in terms of ethics of media, it articulates the restriction on the Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Restrictions impose under this clause must be reasonable and it should be in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with the Foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.

FREEDOM OF PRESS vis-a-vis ETHICS

The fundamental right of the freedom of the press is implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression, is essential for political liberty and proper functioning of democracy. The freedom of free speech and expression has a wider interpretation in regard to freedom of press that insures freely convey one’s thought owning to the fact that unless one’s expression is not conveyed there would be a no meaning of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a). The “press has no special rights which are not to be given or which are not to be exercised by the citizen in his individual capacity. The editor of a press or the manager is merely exercising the right of the expression, and therefore, no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press.”2

In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India,3 ensuring the efficacy of press the court observed, the expression “freedom of the press” means freedom from interference from the authority which have the effect of interfering with the content and circulation of the newspapers. The purpose of the press is to enhance the public interest by publishing true statements and opinion, therefore no interference can be done in the name of public interest. The court also observed that it is the duty of the court to prevent all executive actions which interfere with its contrary to the constitutional mandate.

Following are the ethical situations which have been recognised by the courts by observing public interest

in general and ensuring the freedom of the press;-

Publication of Sexually Exploitative material: – A petition was filed in the case of Ajay Goswami v. 4

Union of India, seeking protection from court to ensure that minors should not be exposed to sexually exploitative contents, whether or not such contents was obscene and prohibited by the law. The court observed, the test of obscenity shall not be from the perspective of sensitive man it must be from the person of reasonable prudence. Publication must be judged as a whole. Judging in isolation of any publication would not be meant as obscene. Where the work involves art and obscenity, it must be judged whether the artistic, literary or social merit of the work in question overweighs its “obscene” content. Further, the court also held, the blanket ban on publication of obscene materials in the name of minors cannot be imposed. However, the court suggested the Press Council to amend the provisions of the Act in order to fix a limit on the publication of obscene material.

Pre-Censorship: – The imposition of pre-censorship on a material prior to its publication would amount to violation of Article 19 (1) (a). In the case of Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi,5 The order was issued

2 Dr. Ambedkar’s Speech in Constituent Assembly Debates, VII, 980 3 (1985) 1 SCC 641
4 AIR 2007 SC 493
5 AIR 1950 SC 129

under Section 7 of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949 against the editor, printer publisher of the journal English Weekly of Delhi, directing them to submit the duplicate before the publication. The order includes submission of news, views, photographs, cartoons, every other content received other than official source or news agencies for scrutiny before publication till further orders. The Court struck down the order stating, – The imposition of pre-censorship of a journal is a curtailment of the liberty and freedom of the press and violation of freedom of speech and expression assured under Article 19 (1) (a). Similarly, prohibiting newspapers to publish their own views or the views of people associated with it about the contemporary topics is a serious violation of the right of freedom of speech and expression. Prior restriction of the publication of Defamatory material: – In Rajagopal v. State of T.N.,6 The Apex Court has observed- The Government has no authority to put prior restrictions upon the press upon the publication of defamatory material against the officials of the Government. Public authority who apprehends that they or their colleagues may be defamed upon publication, cannot prevent the press from publication, but they can file a suit for action against the press with the sufficient proof that such publication has no true story. No action can be initiated against the press if the publication was based on public records including court records.

Film Censorship: – According to the Cinematograph Act, 1952 films are divided into two categories, i.e, ‘U’ (for all) and ‘A’ (for adults only). This was challenged very first time in the case of K.A. Abbas v. Union of India,7 In which the question was whether the prior censorship of films is included in a restrictive clause Article 19 (2). The petitioner film “Tales of Four Cities” had categorised by the censor board as ‘A’ category movie. The petitioner challenged the pre-censorship of films stating that, censorship is a violation of freedom of speech and expression and imposed an unreasonable restriction. However, the court held the Act valid and also validated the classification of films in categories. The Apex Court denied the interpretation of the petitioner on a view that films are to be separated from other forms of art and expression because motion pictures has a far deeper impact than that of art and expression. Henceforth, pre-censorship, held to justified under Article 19 (2).

Media role in covering the story which involves Public and Nation threat: – In Mohammad Ajmal 8

MohammadAmirKasabaliasABUMujahidv.StateofMaharashtra, TheSupremeCourthadadifferent observation in regard to covering live news. The Apex Court observes the role of media in live electronic coverage of terrorist attacks on Hotel Taj, Hotel Oberoi and shown on T.V. screens stated—

6 (1994) 6 SCC 632 7 AIR 1971 SC 481 8 AIR 2012 SC 3565

The terrorist attacks at all places were shown live on all of the Indian Televisions, media covering each and every minute of the attack and making it a competition to show more and more the latest details on minute to minute basis. This reckless coverage gave a rise to two situations, firstly the terrorist were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed. Secondly, by showing all the live operations, including the position of security forces, the weapons they possess, and all other operational movements live they ignored the fact that the commuters also watching the same and therefore communicating the present situations.

Any justification for the conduct of TV channels in light of the right of freedom of speech and expression would be totally baseless and unacceptable. Every freedom under Article 19 is subject to reasonable restrictions. The plea of freedom of speech and expression shall not be entertained when it amounts to putting other lives into danger guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution or when it jeopardises the national interest. By covering and showing every minute of operation, they made the task difficult for the security forces and also putting many lives in danger.

The shots shown live could also be shown afterwards when terrorists were neutralised and the situation was not alarming. But, in beguile of TRP rating and in a race to compete, they not only forgot the national interest but also made the task much riskier.
It is in such extreme cases that the credibility of an institution is tested. The coverage of the Mumbai terror attack has done much harm to the argument that any regulatory mechanism for the media must only come from within.

PRESS COUNCIL GUIDELINES TO JOURNALISTIC ETHICS

Press Council of India has been established to ‘preserve the freedom of the press and to maintain and improve the standards of newspaper and news agencies’. The work of the council is to ‘build up’ a Code of Conduct for newspapers, news agencies and journalists and all other people engaged with such agencies in accordance with high professional standards. In October 1992, the Council published ‘an updated succinct of the principles of journalistic ethics. The guide to Journalistic Ethics was further revised and updated in 1995 by Mr. Justice P.B. Sawant.
The norms and guidelines are given below, depends on the burning circumstances, will help the journalists to self-regulate his or her conducts in accordance with the public interest.9
1. Accuracy and Fairness

  1. i)  The press shall avoid publication of baseless, inaccurate, graceless, misleading and distorted material.

    Rumours shall not be put forth as facts.

  2. ii)  It is a duty of the press to expose the wrong, but such exposer must be based on some evidences and

    unquestionable facts.

2. Pre-publication Verification

  1. i)  On receipt of any report or article apart from authentic sources which containing public interest and

    benefit containing imputations and comments against a citizen, the editor must check its factual accuracy before publishing the same. The editor may also make necessary changes if the person or the organisation concerned to induce his/her or its version, comments or reaction. If there is a lack or absence of a response, a footnote concerning the same may be appended to the report.

  2. ii)  The news regarding the cancellation of examinations or withdrawal of candidates from the election should be cross-examined and properly verified before publication.
  3. iii)  A document which forms the basis of news report shall be preserved for at least a period of six months from the date of publication.

3. Cautions against defamatory writings

  1. i)  Newspapers shall not publish anything which seems defamatory and denigratory unless verified.

    There must be sufficient reasons to believe that the information received if true and for the public

    good.

  2. ii)  Truth is not a defence in publishing any defamatory, libellous material against a private citizen where

    no public good is involved.

9 Press Council of India, Report on Norms of Journalist Conducts, Edition 2010

  1. iii)  In cases of personal allegations /criticism only the concerned person enjoying the locus standi can move a plaint or has a right to reply. However, in some cases, the representative organisation also get the locus standi and initiate proceeding against the publication.
  2. iv)  The onus shall be on the respondent to show that the publication is injurious to his /her image without having any substance and also no public interest is involved.
  3. v)  It is also necessary that the press, learn to appreciate the clear distinction between matters of ‘public interest’ and ‘those in public interest’. While gossips and social dealings may be found to be of interest by the public, but they serve no public purpose or interest.
  1. Parameters of the right of the Press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials The institution exercising the governmental power has no power to bring a action of defamation against the reports critical of their acts and conducts unless the official establishes that the publication was made with reckless disregard of truth. However Judiciaries protected from power to punish for contempt of court, and the Parliament and Legislatures are protected as their privileges are by Articles 105 and 194 respectively of the Constitution of India, represent an exception to this rule. No civil or criminal suit of defamation can be filed by the central or local bodies in respect of reports criticising their functioning.
  2. Criticisms of Public Figures/Music Reviews An actor, singer or an artist appears on a public stage and open his /her performance for the views and opinion of the public and of critics’ such views and opinion of critics would not amount to defamation provided that such analysis shall only be based on such performance and not on artist personal credibility.
  3. Right to Privacy
  1. i)  The press has no right to infringe the privacy of an individual unless it overweight public interest.

    Press has to take extra measures when the issue is regarding the privacy of women. Explanation:

    Things concerning a person’s home, family, religion, health, sexuality, personal life and private affairs are covered by the concept of PRIVACY excepting where any of these impinges upon the public or public interest.

  2. ii)  While reporting of a crime involving rape, abduction, kidnapping of women/female or sexual assault of children, or raising doubts and question against the chastity of women, the name, photographs and other particulars leading to her identity shall not be published.

7. Privacy of Public figures The public servant performing the governmental function has a different degree of privacy than that of private individuals. The acts and conduct of public servants are in ‘public interest’ and it is different from ‘of interest to public’, even if conducted in private may be brought to the knowledge of the public through the medium of the press.

8. Recording Interviews and Phone conversations

  1. i)  The press has no right to tape-record anyone’s conversation without the person consent or knowledge.

    This right is only available when it is necessary to protect journalist interest in legal action, or for

    other good reasons.

  2. ii)  The press shall delete offensive language used during such conversation.
  1. Conjecture, comment and fact Newspapers should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or

    comment as a statement of fact. All these categories should be distinctly identified.

  2. Newspapers to eschew suggestive guilt
  1. i)  They should not name or identify the family or associates of a person accused or convicted of a

    crime, when they are totally innocent and reference of those is totally baseless and irrelevant.

  2. ii)  It is against the norms of journalist to promote or project the case of any one party in a case of any

    controversy/dispute.

  1. Reporting-Proceedings of Legislature The press has a duty to publish or report faithfully the

    proceedings of either House of Parliament and Legislative Assembly, in this regard no suit can be filed in any court for reporting the proceedings unless it is proved that the reporting have been made with malice. However, the media shall not report or publish the proceedings of the House of Parliament or Legislative Assembly, where such proceedings are not open to the media.

  2. Caution in criticising judicial acts Except where the courts sit’s ‘in camera’ or otherwise stated, the newspapers are allowed to cover pending proceedings in a fare, accurate and reasonable manner.
  1. i)  The newspaper shall not publish anything which prejudice the due administration of justice, prejudice to the function of the court, regarding the personal character of accused standing trial on a charge of committing a crime.
  2. ii)  While newspapers may, in the public interest, may make a reasonable criticism, upon the act or judgement of the court in public good; they shall not cast criticism on the personal bias of the judge.
  3. iii)  Before publishing, the editor of the newspaper must check its correctness and authenticity from records so that the concerned person can be held guilty and accountable for the wrong and incorrect information furnished.
  1. Corrections When any factual error or mistake is discovered, the newspaper shall suo-motu publish the corrected facts and a note of apology in that regard in a case of serious lapse.
  2. Right of Reply

i) The newspaper on receiving a note or a letter, should promptly and with due prominence, free of

cost, shall publish such contradictory/reply of a person feeling aggrieved by the publication. If the

editor doubts the factuality of the reply/contradiction, he has a liberty to add a note regarding the

same. Freedom of the Press involves the readers’ right to know all sides of an issue of public interest.

  1. ii)  An editor, therefore, shall not refuse to publish a rejoinder or the reply of the aggrieved person merely

    on a ground that in his opinion the publication was true. This is an issue which also left to the reader.

  2. iii)  The press has to remember the paramount principle that a person shall not be held guilty unless the

    offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt.

  1. Letter to Editor Where an editor decides to open his column of opinion on a controversial matter, it

    is purely a discretion of the editor to choose all or any of the opinion also whether to publish fully or just a brief, this discretion is also with an editor. However, he must ensure a fair balance between the controversial matter in publishing opinions, despite his personal view.

  2. Editors’ Discretion In a matter of writing an editorial, the editor enjoys the full discretion. Choosing a matter to write is also discretionary to an editor, provided that while publishing the editor must not violate the norms and ethics of journalism.
  3. Obscenity and vulgarity to be eschewed
  1. i)  Newspaper shall not publish anything which is obscene, vulgar and offensive to public good taste.
  2. ii)  The newspaper shall not display advertisements which depict women nude or lewd poster, provoke the

    attention of males as if she herself was a commodity for sale.

  3. iii)  Whether a picture is obscene or not, is to be judged in relation to three tests; namely
  1. a)  Is it vulgar and indecent?
  2. b)  Is it a piece of mere pornography?
  3. c)  Is its publication meant merely to make money by titillating the sex feelings of adolescents and

    among whom it is intended to circulate? In other words, does it constitute an unwholesome

    exploitation for commercial gain.

  1. Glorification/encouragement of social evils to be eschewed The newspapers shall not allow their

    columns to misused for writings which has a tendency to instigate or glorify social evils like Sati

    Pratha or such issues.

  2. Violence not to be glorified While reporting news regarding terrorist attacks, communal riots and

    accidents, the media should refrain publishing, telecasting photographs, clips which ignite terror or

    communal passion long people.

  3. Covering communal disputes/clashes News, views or comments, relating to communal or religious

    disputes shall only be published after proper verification of facts. Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided. The role of the media is to be peacemakers and not abettor.

  21. Headings not to be sensational/provocative and must justify the matter printed under them In matters of communal disputes and clashes

  1. i)  Proactive and sensational headings shall be avoided.
  2. ii)  Heading must be in direct proportionate to the matter contained.
  3. iii)  Headings containing allegations must put with the sources, making it and also carry question marks.

22. Caste, religion or community references

  1. i)  In general, the caste or community identification of a person shall be avoided.
  2. ii)  An accused or a victim shall not be described by his caste or community when it has no relation with

    the crime and plays no part in the identification of a person.

  3. iii)  Newspapers are advised not to use the words ‘Harijan’ or ‘Schedule Caste’ which have been objected

    by some.

  4. iv)  Commercial exploitation of the name of prophets, seers or deities is repugnant to journalistic ethics

    and good taste.

23. Paramount national interest

  1. i)  The paramount duty of the newspapers to prevail the interest of the State and society. They are also

    subject to the restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India.

  2. ii)  Picturisation or publication of incorrect/wrong map of the country is a serious offence. It affects the

    territorial integrity of the nation.

  1. Foreign Relations Media role in developing foreign relation is undoubtable the most important.

    While reporting, media shall not jeopardise the relations with any foreign nation which mould the

    public opinion.

  2. Newspapers may expose misuse of diplomatic immunity Media shall put all its efforts to bridges

    friendly relations between India and other foreign nation, but at the same time, the media have a duty

    to expose any misuse of diplomatic immunities.

  3. Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters Investigative reporting has three basic

    elements.

  1. i)  It has to be the work of the reporter, not of others he is reporting;
  2. ii)  The subject should be of public importance for the reader to know;
  3. iii)  An attempt is being made to hide the truth from the people.

27. Confidence to be respected If the information is received from the confidential sources, it becomes a

duty of the journalist not to disclose that confidential source. The journalist cannot be compelled by Press Council to disclose the source said. Though, if a consent in this regard was brought by journalist, then it will not amount to a violation of journalistic ethics.

  1. Newspapers to avoid crass commercialism Newspapers are also allowed and has a right to strengthen its financial viability by all reasonable and legitimate means. However, the press shall not engage in crass commercialisation and cut-throat competitions with their rivals in a manner repugnant to high professional standards. The question of unethical practice is not governed by any hard and fast rule, it depends on the circumstances of each case.
  2. Fraudulent activities It seems unethical on the part of management of press/newspaper/magazines/ journals not to defraud public by closing down a publication after collecting subscription. If any money left due, it shall be returned to subscribers.
  3. Professional misconduct Blackmailing or extortion of money from people under the threat to defame them through the column of newspapers amount to serious violations of journalist ethics.
  4. Professional rivalry No commercial rivalry between newspapers in order to gratify their private spite by using newspaper column.
  5. Plagiarism Presenting, using or passing the ideas, writings of some other as one’s owns, without crediting the source, it’s against the norms of journalism.
  6. Unauthorised lifting of news Lifting or taking news from some other newspaper and publishing the same in their own newspaper without crediting the source, amounts unethical.
  7. Illegal reproduction Newspaper shall not reproduce the contents from the books which was outlawed.
  8. Non-return of unsolicited material The press has no obligation to send back the unsolicited work sent for consideration of publication. However, if the same is lead by some stamped envelope, all efforts shall be put to return the document.
  9. Advertisements
  1. i)  No advertisement shall publish which directly or indirectly promote, sale, consumption of tobacco,

    cigarettes, wine, alcohol, liquor or any other intoxicated products.

  2. ii)  Newspapers shall not advertise anything which has a tendency to hurt the religious sentiments of any

    society.

  3. iii)  Newspapers shall not publish anything which is illegal and contains no public good, it deems

    unethical.

  4. iv)  Deliberately not publishing the same advertisement in all copies of newspaper offends against the

    standards of journalistic ethics and constitutes gross professional misconduct.

  5. v)  The editor has left with the final decision on publishing an advertisement which resembles near the

    cross line of decency or obscenity.

  1. Internal Disputes Internal Disputes could be two types, disputes between editor and management; dispute of functional relationship between management and journalist. All work needs to be done in coordination with all the groups. Once, the owner lays down the policy, neither he nor anyone else on his behalf is permitted to interfere with the day to day activities of editors and staff working under him. In discharge of the editorial functions the editor is supreme and superior even to the owner.
  2. Astrological prediction The editor should avoid publishing the astrological predictions and superstitious practices which have a tendency to unsettle the minds of the readers. Readers who are interested in the subject of astrology can turn to specialized publications on the subject.
  3. Reporting on Natural Calamities The editor must thoroughly check the facts and data of natural calamities or spread of epidemics before publishing. It is mandatory on the part of media to collaborate completely with the government and non governmental agencies in such situation having a paramount interest of the public.
  4. HIV/AIDS and the Media Media suppose to take all necessary and reasonable actions which are in ‘public interest’ and at the same time it should maintain the person right of privacy and also maintain the confidentiality of sensitive situations. The media shall follow all the do’s and don’ts which are listed in the official guidelines.
  5. Trial By Media The media and judiciary are two vital pillars of democracy, and natural allies, one compliments the other towards the goal of a successful democracy. Thus, media persons should be duly trained and imparted basic knowledge about the functioning of courts and processes of law. If the journalist/newspaper wants to do a string operation, he must follow the specific guidelines given by the Press Council of India.
  6. Norms for Photo Journalism An editor, journalist and newspaper must be more careful and responsible in visual publication because it creates a greater impact on the readers.

About The Author:

This article is written by Tanish Khandelwal.

 

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