Watchdog or Lapdog?
When Journalists cross the line
DIMAPUR, FEBRUARY 24: Three days ago, on February 21, the IT cell of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) uploaded more than 25 relatively short videos to the saffron party’s official YouTube channel.
Given its penchant for the digital medium and the fact that the party is facing elections in two States, including Nagaland, on February 27, this development would hardly have raised an eyebrow. Except, it did.
Among those fresh uploads were at least five advertisements/promotions featuring some journalists and support staff members at Hornbill TV as actors: asking the electorate of Nagaland to “vote for BJP again”. Those videos were signed off with a common refrain (a voiceover by one of the journalists): “choose Modi for peace and development in Nagaland”.
Among journalists in Nagaland, this prompted concerns over unethical practice and the behavioural view of the media as watchdog or lapdog. Some senior (and respected voices) in the Nagaland media scene offered their respective views to Nagaland Page on Friday.
Moa Jamir of The Morung Express called it an unprecedented and deeply concerning development “from all aspects”.
“Two questions can be asked in this context. Why is the news channel/organisation allowing its journalists to undertake such activities? If it was an oversight, or without the knowledge of the editor, or those at the helm of affairs, the concerned journalist should have known better”, he said.
Moa cited the January reminder issued by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Nagaland to all the print, electronic and other media platforms regarding existing guidelines for election reporting.
“For electronic media, it was the News Broadcasting Standards Authority’s ‘Guidelines for Election Broadcasts’. Two sections are worth noting here.
“First, it stated that news ‘channels shall disclose any political affiliations, either towards a party or candidate’ and ‘unless they publicly endorse or support a particular party or candidate, news broadcasters have a duty to be balanced and impartial, especially in their election reporting’. Is it a public acknowledgement of any political affiliation?” he questioned.
The second “and most important” aspect, according to Moa, is that the NBSA guidelines state that “news broadcasters, their journalists and officials must not accept any money, or valuable gifts, or any favour that could influence or appear to influence, create a conflict of interest or damage the credibility of the broadcaster or their personnel”.
“From ethical point of view, while the NBSA guidelines are pretty pliant at best, such involvement violates even these bare rules according to me. In contrast, in my view, the Press Council of India’s ‘Norms of Journalistic Conducts’ should be a mandatory principle to anyone who consider oneself a journalist or news organisation, not just print media”, he shared.
The PCI guidelines stipulate that the Press should not accept any kind of inducement, financial or otherwise, to project a candidate/party ~ it should also not accept hospitality or other facilities offered by or on behalf of any candidate/party.
“To adhere to the principle of fair and objective reporting, the Press is not expected to indulge in canvassing of a particular candidate/party. Moreover, the section on ‘Guidelines on Undue Favours to Journalists’ has a comprehensive list of Dos and Don’ts while the whole norms itself is a comprehensive guide”, he pointed out.
Besides, the political party also should not have resorted to such approach, he added.
Adopting a point-blank tone, freelancer Kallol Dey (previously of Nagaland Page) asked: “How can the so-called media persons of a TV channel be part of a political advertisement?” According to him, the development was beyond his wildest imaginations.
“Ethical journalism has become a rare commodity in Nagaland. I have come to live with that. Of late I have been hearing and watching ethics being trampled upon by the new breed of electronic or television media in our State”, he said.
Terming it as “outright violation of all media norms”, he asserted: “You simply cannot be a journalist of any sort if you are part of any political promotional material, least of all an advertisement promoting a political party. And we as journalists cannot allow this to happen in the name of journalism. Media regulatory bodies should take note of this”.
Another senior voice, Imkong Walling of The Morung Express also called it “unethical and unhealthy”.
“Objectivity is required of news organisations. At the same time, cannot blame the employees entirely; they have to do what they are told to do. We also have to admit that there is no such thing as employee rights in the private sector in Nagaland. You go against company policy, you get the boot”, he shared.
After the censure from churches for misusing Christian hymnals during election campaigns, the BJP in Nagaland is now being left red-faced by allegations of plagiarism. On Friday, Dreamz Unlimited, a Dimapur-based theatre and film production house, issued a clarification that it did not endorse BJP Nagaland to use the photos of some of its actors in the latter’s promotional clip. “This is not right, BJP Nagaland”, the group stated while maintaining that they do not endorse any particular political party.
Various individuals have also taken to social media to vent their frustration and complain after their photos and clippings were used by the BJP IT cell without permission in their promotional posters and videos.
It was informed that some of the posts were deleted following the complaints.
“BJP has a habitual tendency to steal others’ project and make it their own”, one of the complainants said.