TODAY -

Reporting in Conflict Situation and Communal Harmony
- Part 2 -

Dr. A. Ibomcha Sharma *



Arising out of complaint against publication by newspaper of Assam of some press handouts and threat notes issued by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the PCI enunciated some general principles for the guidance of the press in this regard in September 1992.

The guiding principles say that diktats or press notes commanding newspapers to publish them under duress or threats of dire consequences, emanating from elements wedded to violence constitute the gravest assault on the freedom of the press which is one of the surest guarantors of a democratic an plural society.

Generally, such dikatts or press notes are not newsworthy per se. Publication of such contents not only compromises the freedom and independent functioning of the concerned newspaper but also constitutes an offence against the standard of professional ethics and responsibility of the fourth estate of democracy.

The guiding principles further add that if there is anything newsworthy in a press note emanating from any source, it should not be blacked out altogether self censorship may be no less dangerous than being insidious. The bottom line is that editors must exercise due caution and circumspection in considering the dissemination of such press notes.

If the whole content of the proscribed outfit's press communiqué is not pernicious, than it may be edited, its objectionable portions removed and language toned down so that whatever is really newsworthy gets disseminated in an impartial and balance manner.

As per guiding principles of the Council, the fundamental criteria for selecting editorial content should be its newsworthiness and not where it emanates from. The Council advises to withhold the publication of a press note released by militants only when the newsworthy and the objectionable portions are inextricably mixed up.

According to the findings and recommendations of the "Crisis and Credibility" report on Kashmir, "…….The media cannot therefore turn away from critical situations entailing danger or retreat to safe havens, depending on handouts from any quarter.

The people have right to know and to seek authentic, objective and wherever possible eyewitnesses or well documented information." It further says, "Newsmen and newspapers should report all sides and aspects of events fairly and objectively, citing sources, verifying facts, providing necessary contextual background and where possible, offering their own eyewitness observations, analysis of interpretation without editorializing."

As per the recommendations of the report, the most horrific events can be narrated with moderation and should be portrayed or displayed with sobriety so as not to exacerbate tensions. The concept of objectionable writing must be clearly defined and understood. If genuinely objectionable matter is to be curbed, pre censorship is not the answer.

This should be scrupulously avoided. The remedy lies in taking action under the ordinary law of the land with suitable appellate procedures. It would be desirable if the PCI were to be informed of all such cases.

In the PCI report on the media crisis in Punjab, the Council recommended that the bandh notices and press notes from ultras should be edited and played down while positive developments should be mentioned and even highlighted as the occasion demands.

While exercising due caution in disseminating press notes issued by terrorist groups, the press must also be vigilant against the possibility of its being used by the government. The media cannot be anybody's handmaiden or cat's paw, because credibility is vital.

Reporting for Communal Harmony:

The Press Council of India has given the following guidelines to observe by the media in covering news which may be tagged with communal tone and texture.

1. Distortion or exaggeration of facts or incidents in relation to communal matters or giving currency to unverified rumours, suspicions or inferences as if they were facts and base their comments on them.

2. Employment of intemperate or unrestrained language in the presentation of news or views.

3. Encouraging or condoning violence even in the face of provocation as a means of obtaining redress of grievances whether the same be genuine or not.

4. While it is the legitimate function of the Press to draw attention to the genuine and legitimate grievances of any community with a view to having the same redressed by all peaceful, legal and legitimate means, it is improper and a breach of journalistic ethics to invent grievances, or to exaggerate real grievances.

5. Scurrilous and untrue attacks on communities, or individuals, particularly when this is accompanied by charges attributing misconduct to them as due to their being members of a particular community or caste.

6. Falsely giving a communal colour to incidents which might occur in which members of different communities happen to be involved.

7. Emphasizing matters that are not to produce communal hatred or ill-will, or fostering feelings of distrust between communities.

8. Publishing alarming news which are in substance untrue or make provocative comments on such news or even otherwise calculated to embitter relations between different communities or regional or linguistic groups.

9. Exaggerating actual happenings to achieve sensationalism and publication of news which adversely affect communal harmony with banner headlines or in distinctive types.

10. Making disrespectful, derogatory or insulting remarks on or reference to the different religions or faiths or their founders.

Concluded.....


* Dr. A. Ibomcha Sharma, IIS wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is News Editor & Head, Regional News Unit, AIR, Imphal
This article was posted on 24 January , 2018 .


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