Senior journalist Rajat Sharma wears two hats. He is the president of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), entrusted with policing TV content. He is also the editor-in-chief of India TV, which like many others is being accused of sensationalising the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. Amid suggestions that powers of the NBA be increased to tackle over-the-top reporting, Sharma speaks to Prashant Srivastava on the raging issue. Excerpts—
How do you see the way TV media is doing coverage on the Sushant Singh Rajput death case?
It will not be correct to term all news channels as TV media. Most of the news channels have done good reporting in the case, leaving aside one or two, which went overboard. It will not be fair to blame all because of one or two channels. The entire news broadcasting industry has to bear the shame because of one or two channels.
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It seems that the work that should have been done by the police or investigating agency is done by media.
If you look at the extent of curiosity on people’s minds over the circumstances surrounding his death, you will surely find that the reporting has not been too much. Sushant’s death is still wrapped in mystery. He was a successful actor, he had money, fame, family and home, and there was hardly any reason for him to commit suicide. That’s why this story became so big. Had Mumbai police handled the case properly, media would not have gone to this extent in investigating the case. Mumbai police command prestige; they have a glorious history and people expected them to go deeper into the case. But for two months, they were only investigating the case from the angle of nepotism in Bollywood and did not file an FIR. Everybody saw how Mumbai police treated policemen from Patna. An IPS officer was quarantined. This raised questions on people’s mind. Would media have remained silent?
Do you think media becomes judge in the name of reporting ?
Most of the news channels did not become judge, they tried to dig out facts from different angles. Most of the reporters reported versions from both sides. But some channels, in a bid to become judge, crossed all limits of reporting. I agree, it is unethical to use force or harass people in the name of reporting. Having a boom in hand and an I-card in your pocket does not give you the licence to harass anybody. There are limits in reporting and reporters must observe decency. Those who violate such tenets do not deserve to work in news channels. They bring a bad name to the news broadcasting industry.
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Channels are claiming that they do such coverage for television rating point, or TRP. To what extent is this correct?
TRP is a tool to measure audience preferences. Its meters give the industry an idea of what people prefer to watch on TV. Do you expect TV channels to show programmes that people do not wish to watch? Coverage is done for news stories that interest most viewers. It is also essential that the interests of society are also taken care of while catering to the preferences of viewers. There could be one or two news channels who give colour to news only to garner ratings. They are exceptions rather than the rule.
In a recent interview, Riya Chakraborty said that her private chats with friends are being shown on TV, due to this they are getting threat calls and messages. Do you consider it a violation of privacy?
Whatever is being shown on news channels was in the public domain. Everyone knew about these chats. People from both sides, those levelling charges against Rhea and those supporting her, were leaking WhatsApp messages. Nowadays it is easy to leak such messages on social media. We often wonder from where did these messages come, who leaked them? When such messages are public knowledge, how can you say this is a violation of privacy?
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Earlier also in the Aarushi Talwar and Sheena Bora murder cases, media took the same approach. Are we seeing the extreme form of that now ?
Whenever there is a case about which people want to know more but do not find answers, media has to come forward. This is our responsibility. When investigating agencies fail to do their work properly, when people get disappointed from all sides, they look towards the media for relief. From model Jessica Lal’s murder to Nirbhaya’s gang rape on a bus in Delhi, media has played a stellar role in highlighting them. Had media not raised awareness among people, many criminals would have been walking free instead of spending time behind bars.
It seems that self-regulation is not effective, in such a situation what action should be taken? Do you think the NBA needs more power?
Self-regulation in news channels has proved very effective. At least 71 big channels that follow News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) guidelines hardly get complaints from viewers. Most of the questions that you raised relate to channels that are not members of the NBA. The NBSA is an independent organisation, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice Arun Sikri. He commands prestige among his peers. Eighty per cent of viewers in India watch only channels that are members of the NBA; thus they come under the purview of the NBSA. All these channels, watched by 80 per cent viewers, follow the NBSA guidelines that are very strict, and do not cross limits. But news channels that are not members of the NBA and are watched by 20 per cent viewers, have no such guidelines to follow. The news broadcasting industry has to suffer because of these few channels. We want NBSA guidelines to be mandatory for all news channels.