Uri Attack : Does The Indian Media Need A Code Of Ethics – Views From Prabhakar

Prime time on TV channels over the last few days have become a brainstorm on how India should respond to the attack on our soldiers in Uri and trying to second guess the Government’s thinking on the subject.

Is that the role of media? To get together a panel of experts who decide what the Government’s action should be? The benefit of a brainstorm from the best people in the country freely available to the enemy?


Is that the right way for journalists to discuss the war strategy for India? Does a country lay open their war-room discussion open to the public or the enemy in full view for everyone in the world to watch?

Some reports on television even alluded to confidential information on the governments plans to 6 options. Lets assume that journalists even had access to confidential information in the government? Would they forsake their country by letting the enemy know what exactly they are thinking? Is there no responsibility in reporting?

Its almost like showing your opponent your hand in a card game.

Does the US media lay open all their war-room plans for their various conflict areas around the world, and encourage discussion amongst a panel of experts on what the US Government should do?

Somewhere media needs to show a more respectful and responsible role and leave important things to the Government.

It may be too late already, but the time has come for India to enforce responsible journalism. It has been proven on many previous occasions that the irresponsible and selfish behaviour of media owners to increase their readership or viewership at the cost of everything else, has endangered the public interest.


Responsible Journalism. Remember 26/11?


26/11 was the first evidence of TV media having played a disastrous role in endangering the lives of people and causing irreparable damage to property. Besides of course inordinately delaying the final reigning in of the terrorists, TV media actually abetted the crime by giving a blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute coverage of the police’s moves to the terrorists holed up in the Taj Mahal Hotel. For the terrorists it was like playing a chess game where you are told the opponent’s moves well in advance.

There are innumerable cases since. Television media has unfortunately taken on the role of a public vigilante but who discusses in public what should actually be kept secret for the security of the country.


Do we have a Code of Conduct for Journalism?


The Society of Professional Journalists one of the oldest societies of professional journalists in the US in their pre-amble say that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. However it equally cautions by adding that the ethical journalist acts with integrity. But one of the four key tenets of their philosophy is Minimize Harm. I quote from their Code of Ethics below:

‘Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should :

  • Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent.
  • Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast

It is quite clear that in the case of the 26/11 attacks or the Uri attacks, the media has moved without a code of conduct. They have ‘impishly done exactly what they want to do.’


News Channel or Soap Opera?


A long time ago a friend of mine was in an interview for a top job in one of the country’s premier media houses, when he was asked the question ‘what would you do with our premier economic daily?’ He had answered ‘ I would make it the Economist in broadsheet’. The interview panel then cautioned him that at the next stage in the interview process he would meet the owners of the media and if he was asked that question again, this was the wrong answer. He couldn’t help asking what was the right answer. He was told that the media owners believed that newspapers were like a piece of soap, and that they needed to be promoted just like soap or in other words like any other fmcg product.

Who would have thought that 10 years later our TV channels would turn news into soap operas? For the owners of the media I have one last quip. Soap doesn’t have a conscience. A piece of news on the other hand is heavily laden with a conscience and a great responsibility both to the public and the country.



About the Author:

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.