Trial by media has come under the scrutiny of an official committee drafting the proposed broadcasting code and guidelines, which recommends that broadcast service providers 'should avoid' such activism since 'a man is innocent till proven guilty by law'.
The guidelines, drafted by a sub-committee under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, state that 'news should not jeorpadise any ongoing criminal investigations and should exercise due care' in such cases.
Under attack from the media over the draft guidelines and a draft bill to regulate broadcast media, the government has, however, said these were only drafts for discussion and not the final official product.
In a section titled Impartiality, Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions, nineteen points have been recommended to ensure that news, in whatever form, is 'reported with accuracy and presented with due impariality'.
'With ever-increasing number of round-the-clock news channels and the intense competition among them for viewership and changing priorities as to what constitute news, television content calls for some discipline with specific guidelines," the proposed code notes.
It calls for 'utmost care and caution' by news and current affairs channels in their audio-visual presentations and selection of themes.
'Good taste should guide the selection and presentation of news. Morbid, sensational, or alarming details not essential to factual reporting should be avoided', the proposed guidelines recommend.
Further, it is recommended that no material should be presented in any manner that creates public panic and unnecessary alarm. 'Ensure that nothing is broadcast which is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling', it says.
The guidelines say that news should be reported with due accuracy and presented wih due impartiality. 'Any mistakes in news should be aknowledged and corrected on air, maximum within a week after being noted. Corrections and apologies should be scheduled appropriately and also in the same time band where the initial error had occurred', they say.
The guidelines recommed that news should be well balanced and comprehensive; factual material must be presented accurately and all viewpoints represented fairly.
'Commentary and analysis shall be clearly distinguished in the news and be preceded by the actual news. Views and facts must not be misrepresented', they say, adding that any personal interest of a reporter or presenter, which would call into question the due impartiality of the programme, must be made clear to the audience.
Also, it recommends avioding any scene/clipping/footage depicting excessive violence, nudity, obscenity and vulgarity, not suitable for viewing by children and in family settings.
'News covering scenes of crime, violence, national tragedy and supernatural practices should be dealt with utmost objectivity and sensitivity and not with a view to trivialise, sensationalise or glorify them', the guidelines say.
Also, it says that simulated news (for example, in drama or in documentaries) must be broadcast in such a way that there is no reasonable possibility of the audience being misled into believing that they are listening to, or watching, actual news.
The guidelines say that in reporting violent events, natural calamities and accidents, appropriate regard must be paid to the feelings of relatives and viewers.
'Inclusion of images of dead or seriously wounded people or gruesome and gory scenes, which may seriously distress or offend substantial number of viewers, should not be included in the telecast. The feelings and sensitivities of grieving relatives or the injured must be respected and interviews avoided', the guidelines say.
The guidelines say that 'the dead should be treated with respect' and not shown unless there are compelling reasons for doing so. 'Close-ups of faces and serious injuries in case of disasters/riots etc should be avoided', they note.
Recommendations also include broadcasters advising viewers in advance before showing scenes of extra-ordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matters such as sexual assault or court action related to sexual crimes, particularly during newscasts and updates when children could be viewing.
'Language that could incite violence, disorder or hatred must not be used. The gratuitous use of language likely
to offend must be avoided when images depicting human tragedy of excessive violence or audio material are telecast', it says, adding that both oral and visual warning must precede the telecast.
Also, the guidelines recommend that news should not jeopardise the security of the nation and care should be taken that news sessions are in the interest of the nation.
However, they recommend no specific guidelines for coverage of elections as 'all channels are expected to and are bound by the guidelines prescribed by the Election Commission of India'.