Allegations of drug abuse, debauchery and toxic work culture were made openly against the Hindi film industry by television news channels
A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology led by Shashi Tharoor is likely to take this up later in the week
Four months into the high-pitched debates on Bollywood’s toxic practices, the government and broadcaster associations are finally cracking the whip on Indian news media organizations.
Last week, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) issued an advisory to all private satellite television channels asking them to broadcast content strictly adhering to Programme and Advertising Codes, which must not contain “anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths".
The move came in the wake of the Delhi high court directing the ministry to file a status report on measures taken to restrain the media after actor Rakul Preet Singh filed a petition before the court alleging that media organizations were running defamatory programmes based on unsubstantiated allegations, which is causing irreparable harm to her reputation.
She was caught in the eye of the storm after she was named in the drug scam involving Bollywood, following the untimely death of Sushant Singh Rajput in June.
Allegations of drug abuse, debauchery and toxic work culture were made openly against the Hindi film industry by television news channels.
Subsequently, four film associations and 34 studios came together to file a lawsuit before the Delhi high court against media houses earlier this week to “refrain them from making irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against Bollywood as a whole and members of Bollywood, and to restrain them from conducting media trials of Bollywood personalities".
Associations, including the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, besides companies owned by actors and directors such as Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn, Karan Johar, Anushka Sharma, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aditya Chopra, have named Republic TV, Arnab Goswami, Pradeep Bhandari, Times Now, Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar in the suit, according to DSK Legal, which filed the plea on behalf of the producers.
Representatives of Republic TV and Times Now did not respond to Mint’s queries.
However, the fact that TV channels have come under the scanner is evident by the fact that the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (an independent body set up by the News Broadcasters Association to consider and adjudicate upon complaints on broadcasts) has not only reprimanded some players for insensitive taglines and stories but also asked them to air an apology and remove all videos of reportage that was carried out without due diligence.
Recently, a first information report was also registered against Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema for alleged rumour mongering and spewing hate after a probe into a scam to tamper with TRP ratings.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology led by Shashi Tharoor is likely to take this up later in the week.
“The moment does call for introspection by all news channels on the overall state of the industry," Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO, Prasar Bharti, said, adding that ultimately, ratings are a reflection of what viewers want to watch. The high viewership notched up by DD classics such as Ramayana and Mahabharat during the covid-19 pandemic proves there is a latent demand for sober quality content that the entire family can watch.
Meanwhile, media agencies say brands have asked them to closely track how the issue unfolds, though advertising has not been suspended on the said channels by a majority of them. The move comes only a few months after several global brands paused advertising on Facebook as they sought greater accountability on hate speech, fake news and misinformation from the tech giant.
Advertising and media industry veteran and head of customer strategy and relationships at ZEE5 India, Anita Nayyar said that the news category has a huge amount of responsibility towards society. Advertisers, ad agencies and publishers have a key role to play in the larger scheme of things.
“News is equated with credibility. Unfortunately, for various reasons, news content, especially in the television space, is resorting to tactics that are aimed at attracting eyeballs and gaining ratings. Government and industry regulators have to ensure that news broadcasters are held accountable. If an advertiser stops advertising on content that is questionable, it is doing its job of being a responsible brand," she added.
Although Parle Products, the maker of Parle G biscuits has not been active on TV due to covid, its senior category head Krishnarao Buddha said that the company will not advertise on news channels that promote toxic content.
“We are exploring possibilities wherein other advertisers can come together and sort of put a restraint on their advertising spends on news channels, so that there is some sort of a clear signal to all the news channels, that they better change their content," Buddha said.
Industrialist and managing director of Bajaj Auto, Rajiv Bajaj told CNBC TV18 last week that his company has blacklisted three channels. “A strong brand is a foundation on which you build a strong business. At the end of the day, the purpose of a strong business is to also contribute to society. Our brand has never associated with anything we feel is a source of toxicity in the society," Bajaj had said.
Pankaj Krishna, founder, Chrome Data Analytics & Media, a primary research and data analytics company, said that there’s huge competitive pressure among news channels for higher ratings and that’s where the problem originates.
“I believe once news channels get into ratings business, they are competing against general entertainment channels, and that’s why they end up resorting to tactics which will attract eyeballs. The only solution to this issue is to make the news business subscription-based to keep it impartial and clean. As long as advertising is funding news organizations, such issues will arise," he added.