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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Journalistic Morality and another Bureaucratic investigation agency

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Following are very good articles questioning the serious lacuna in the Bharatiya (misnomer: Indian) media today and Government's haphazard approach to create half baked Federal Agency & amendments to law. They lack integrity.

While the former with its questionable mindset has time and again due to its selective amnesia shown less restrain in being irresponsible and committing editorial slandering, the latter is trying to cutback its looses by trying to look busy without it's full commitment. When the country needs a shot of Red Bull to fight the terrorists, this Government is giving it a tranquilizer.

So much for this Politically Incorrect Government and its Media.

New rules and four puzzles
Will all members of the National Broadcasting Authority (the industry body) define public interest the same way in case of an ‘emergency’? Or will the definition be allowed to vary? What is the applicability of this guideline? Without an answer, the guideline looks as if it’s broad enough a priori to accommodate almost anything post facto.

More puzzling is this exhortation: “the media has a responsibility to disseminate information which is factually accurate and objective”. Parenthetically, let me observe that all of us journalists, in print and TV, should wonder about the phrase ‘factually accurate’, which finds liberal usage in journalese. Can we be factual and inaccurate simultaneously?
This is as baffling as these four things seen on TV news:

1. CNN-IBN’s ticker on Wednesday night informing that OPEC has cut Oil output by 4.2 million barrels per day (bpd). The cut was 2.2 million bpd. The previous cut was 2 million bpd. If the news desk was adding the two up, the text should have reflected that. It’s strange why information available on every wire service should produce such confusing creativity.

2. An Israeli ‘counter-terror expert’ and a guest on one of Times Now’s many, many discussions on terrorism saying “I hear many voices”. It was tempting to think he was offering a dark and pithy summing up of TV news talk shows. But it was an audio problem that kept happening as the anchor asked him questions on India’s new anti-terror law.

3. On Headlines Today, actors, jewellery designers, cricketers, journalists taking a pledge to wage a ‘war on terror’. So, this is what? Our non-state actors, who are undoubtedly good and decent in this case, versus their non-state actors, who, as evidence shows, are neither good nor decent? Also, on Headlines Today, an evening anchor’s extraordinary comparison: Wrapping up an item on Bush and the flying shoes and moving to an item on Kasab, he tells viewers while Bush is probably the most hated man in the world, Kasab is probably the most hated man in India. How does a journalist so casually compare a terrorist to a democratically elected head of state? Or, if you want to, be explicit about your views. The disgraceful conduct of the Iraqi journalist was at least informed by anger. Being unthinkingly flippant is somehow worse.

4. NDTV airing a documentary on Kashmir and then an interview with Sheila Dikshit when CNN-IBN and Times Now were providing rolling news and news-based discussions. The time was peak evening viewing hours. You have to wonder whether this is a smart strategy. The Dikshit interview was good, both interviewer and interviewee offering that rare thing on TV news: measured conversation. But I had to switch away from it frequently because competitor channels were offering news.

But when this certain section of Bharatiya media acts like Judge, Jury, Witness, and Prosecutor, what can we expect? Guidelines or no Guidelines, the media continues with its barrage of deceptions. Here is one very recent example of a Lefitst controlled News Channel known for its soft corner for Pakistan and its Anti-Hindu bigotry playing hand-in-glove with Pakistan-Antulay-Radical Islamist theory that Mumbai Terrorist attack was staged.

Freeze, it’s the NIA
The idea of a federal agency to deal with grave offences which have inter-state and/or nation-wide ramifications was mooted in Parliament in 2001. Numerous terrorist attacks, three different committee reports and seven years later, Parliament has passed a Bill to constitute the National Investigation Agency (NIA). After the delay of all these years, Parliament somehow felt it necessary to pass the Bill in less than a day after it was introduced, leaving little time for effective scrutiny.

The National Investigation Agency would investigate and prosecute offences affecting the sovereignty, security and integrity of India. In addition to the National Investigation Agency Bill, Parliament also passed amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), to strengthen the investigation and prosecution mechanism for terrorism-related offences. The two Acts together bring back many provisions of POTA.
We all know that there is an urgent need, never more so than in past 4 years, for better security infrastructure in Bharat (misnomer: India). But that does not mean the Government washes off its hand by passing critical bills without any scrutiny and without incorporating the ideas from Opposition side. Well if the Government's leaders weren't busy changing clothes and attending parties but rather do some overtime like UK did to come up with a consensual and unanimous law, Bharat would be a little more safer.

Here is an account from Meghnad Desai in an article "Tackling terror effectively" as to how UK dealt with a similar situation.
Once the British Parliament was against a deadline. The Judiciary had said certain foreign terrorists could not be held in prison any longer because the law was discriminatory as they were not able to hold British terrorists as well. Thus, there was a human rights violation. Parliament had to pass a new law within four weeks. Still, both Houses of Parliament went through all the stages of the passage—Second Reading, Committee, Report, Third Reading. Then at the final stage the two Houses had to reconcile the differences in their versions. This is called ping-pong as the Bill goes back and forth across the few hundred feet separating the two chambers. The House of Lords was unhappy about the Government’s desire to hold the suspects for more than a week. Since time was running out, procedurally the Houses could not rise. So we had a 36-hour seating with many Lords, myself including, sleeping in the House of Lords library. From Thursday morning till Friday afternoon we sorted the Bill out after four rounds of ping pong. The House of Lords won its point and suspects had to be presented before a judge to get extension of detention before trial each extra week.

I am relating this story because I am mystified by the way in which the Indian Parliament can pass an important Bill in just two afternoon sessions, after ‘Second Reading’, i.e., general waffly speeches. There seems to be no detailed scrutiny and the Executive pretty much gets its way. Speed, however, is not a guarantee of effectiveness.

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