News channels divided on nature of regulator Team
(18 July 2007 5:40 pm)
NEW DELHI: In a discussion marked by sharp division on whether the broadcasting sector needs a regulator or should be self-regulated, representatives of various news channels admitted that the telecast of certain types of news were necessitated by the Tam ratings and not necessarily by conscience.

In the second session of the Indian News Television Summit organised by here, the channel representatives debated on 'News Channels ….the thirst for News: How is too far?'

Those who took part in the discussion were BBC World India editor Sanjeev Srivastava, India TV CEO Chintamani Rao, NDTV managing editor Dibang, Sahara News head Prabhat Dabral, TV Today Network editorial director Q W Naqvi, CNN IBN editor in chief Rajdeep Sardesai, and Prawin Kumar, who is director of broadcasting content in the information and broadcasting ministry.

Initiating the discussion Srivastava asked if news should be more accountable. While noting that the broadcasting industry needed a regulator, he wondered if it should be an industry regulator or one foisted by the government.

Dabral said he had no doubt that news channels were going too far and there was need to manage content. "In the lust to get eyeballs, we have violated certain norms. We need to check ourselves before the government cracks its whip." He said that one could not always be led by market forces and there was need to be ruled by one's conscience. He felt that the industry definitely needed a regulator. At the same time, he said the best option would be self-regulation.

Rao, who at the outset pointed out that he was not a journalist like the others, said advertisement provided the fodder for the news channels and therefore programming had to be such as to attract a viewer to switch on the channel as that was the only way to attract good advertising. He said there was clearly a generation gap as far as the broadcasting and print media were concerned, since the latter was still in many ways linked to the ideals of the freedom movement. Television on the other hand was a modern tool. He said the remote control button was the master as far as television went.

He denied the charge of being partial and added that even Doordarshan which was a public service broadcaster was not impartial. He said that there was no point in taking a moral high ground. At the same time, it was wrong to blame the television media since it was new and still evolving.

Dibang said there was a need to promote a scientific temperament and this was the reason that NDTV had avoided programmes around crime stories, superstition or sex shows. He wanted the television broadcaster to keep his conscience alive and not merely go by the Tam ratings. This he said was the force behind NDTV. He criticised other channels for catering to news that was not healthy for society.

Naqvi said there was no denying the fact that the race to get more eyeballs was driving the news channels to show the kind of stuff being telecast. But he said there was need to draw a clear line between hard news channels and those based on reality-based prograrmmes. He said it was clear that if he had to choose between conscience and chasing numbers, he would go for the latter. He wanted the broadcasters to be more realistic in understanding the situation in an era of competition if one had to remain at the top spot.

Sardesai agreed about the need to define what constituted hard news channels and what constituted entertainment news or reality-based news. At the same time, there was need to move away from the tyranny of the market forces. There was no denying the fact that most channels catered to the lowest common denominator.

He said that no meal was complete without something spicy. But it was unfortunate that as far news channels went, it was only the spicy news that was being served as the main course and this was taking these channels away from what constituted news channels. He said that technology was being used in different ways to expose others.

But he added that it would be erroneous to say that there had been no progress. It was necessary to understand that the private television media had been in existence only for around twelve years as compared to newspapers which had been there for more than one hundred years.

He said that the three Cs were ruling news channels: crime, cinema and cricket. But there was need for a fourth C - conscience, and the big challenge was how this could be done while fighting the battle for eyeballs and the tyranny of the market. There was no doubt that the industry was facing a crisis that had to be confronted.

He said he was not opposed to a regulator if it was on the lines of Ofcom in Britain, and not one imposed by the government.

Kumar reiterated that the government was not for imposing a regulator, but it was necessary to realise that news for the sake of catching eyeballs was not always healthy. There was nothing wrong if news remained hard news, he said.