The run-up to the court verdict on the title suit in the Ayodhya dispute has seen plenty of activity built around the media. The News Broadcasters’ Association—the body representing private television news and current affairs broadcasters—has issued a set of four guidelines to all editors of member-news channels:
1) All news relating to the High Court judgment in the case should be verbatim reproduction of the relevant part of the said judgement uninfluenced by any opinion or interpretation.
2) No broadcast should be made of any speculation of the judgement before it is pronounced ; and of its likely consequence thereafter which may be sensational, inflammatory or provocative.
3) No footage of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be shown in any new item relating to the judgement.
4) No visuals need be shown depicting celebration or protest of the judgement.
Citing the size of the court room, the media (print and electronic) have been kept away from the compound of the Allahabad high court, and the court has gone so far as to say that the media must not speculate about the verdict till it has a copy of the operational part of the order.
Now, the Union home minister P. Chidambaram has urged the media to “reserve judgement and not make hasty pronouncements.”
While the precautions are no doubt understandable given the preciousness of human life, a good question to ask is, is the Indian media resorting to self-censorship in order to present a better face? In the process of doing so, is it allowing itself to be told what to do and what not to do, thus depriving viewers of what they should know?
If all this passes muster in the name of “self-restraint”, where does this self-restraint vanish on normal days? Is the NBA’s call for self-restraint now an admission of the utter lack of it on regular days?
Was the killing and mayhem that followed the demolition of the Babri masjid by Hindutva goons, while BJP leaders watched in 1992, squarely a fault of the media? Conversely, if the media weren’t around for this and other stories, would India be a land of milk and honey?
Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu