Bare Acts

The Press Council of India's norms of journalistic conduct

Norms

Bare acts
 
The Press Council of India's norms of journalistic conduct

Forward
Ignorance and an inborn antipathy to any external pressure on one's inclination to do, speak and write that which one pleases, are often responsible for a blind resistance to any law, custom, tradition or norms.
It is forgotten that some discipline and standard are necessary for a healthy and decent life, and they promote rather than thwart, the creative urges of the individual.

A distinction has to be made between those restraints which inhibit wholesome potentialities and those which encourage them. Freedom and creativity gain their content only in a society. Unless, life in a society is conducive to the growth of the personality of the individual, the raison d'etre of an organised living will be defeated.

Human beings being what they are, liberty frequently degenerates into licence and creativity into perversity; and the society itself becomes a cesspool of corrupt practices and pursuits. Tempering checks and constructive directions are necessary to preserve and promote decent values, robust creativity and healthy growth.

All customs and traditions, norms, mores and laws are born precisely to achieve this object. To the extent they promote that objective, they fulfil the purpose. The greatest single factor responsible for the human progress so far, is word. The invention of the word and communication through it, though only orally first, paved the way for human advancement.

The invention of the script and then of print took the graph of human achievement to new heights in a geometrically ascending scale. Today mankind finds itself amidst information explosion too fast to keep pace with and too difficult to assimilate, thanks to the mind-boggling progress in science and technology.

But the unbounded progress in the material sphere and in particular in the means of communication, itself warns us, that unless proper precautions are taken to control the method and the manner of the use of the word - spoken or written, typed, printed or copied, human society will be swept of its feet.

More wide-ranging and penetrating the sweep of the word, more the need to regulate its use, in the interest, of the peace, unity, fraternity and co-operation among the members of the society. All countries have therefore, throughout the ages tried to regulate the expression of the word, whatever the nature of the political regime, dictatorial or democratic.

The degree and the extent of the regulation have varied with times, and political, social, religious cultural climes; but the need for restriction of some kind or the other has been felt by all, all the time. Our constitution gives to every citizen the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) and at the same time makes its use subject to the restrictions mentioned clause (2) thereof.

The guarantee of the fundamental right does prevent the state from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right, in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the state, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality and in relation to the contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

The Press Council of India has been established with the objects of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country. It is to further these objects, that the council is required among other things, to help newspapers and news agencies to maintain independence; to build up a code of conduct for newspapers agencies and journalists in accordance with high professional standards to ensure on their part the maintenance of high standards of public taste and to foster a due sense of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and to foster the growth of a sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism.

To discharge these functions entrusted to it, the council has to frame a code of ethics for those engaged in journalism and to enforce it. The council over the years has built up a code of ethics covering aspects of journalism which came to the fore from time to time and which needed to be dealt with at its end, keeping in mind the objects with which it has been established and the role it is expected to perform.

Since its last publication, there have been some additions to the ethical code on important aspects such as financial journalism and pre-poll and exit poll surveys. The council decided to publish and update code and the result is the present publication. This publication has been designed to be a trim and at the same time a comprehensive treatment on the subject.

Besides the ethics, the publication also contains references to the provisions of the constitution and of the various statute laws which have a bearing on the print media. It is hoped that it will be found useful by all concerned. The council hopes to publish its translation in regional languages in due course, for the council is of the view that the education in the code of ethics of journalists connected particularly with the small and regional language newspapers is very necessary if the code is to be effective.

We have no doubt that we will succeed in getting assistance in this task from public-spirited individuals and associations.

P B Sawant, chairman, Press Council of India, August, 1996
Back to top

Principles and ethics
The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner. Towards this end, the press is expected to conduct itself in keeping with certain norms of professionalism universally recognised. The norms enunciated below and other specific guidelines appended thereafter, when applied with due discernment and adaptation to the varying circumstance of each case, will help the journalist to self-regulate his or her conduct.

  1. Accuracy and fairness
    The press shall eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material. All sides of the core issue or subject should be reported. Unjustified rumours and surmises should not be set forth as facts.
  2. Pre-publication verification 
    On receipt of a report or article of public interest and benefit containing imputations or comments against a citizen, the editor should check with due care and attention its factual accuracy - apart from other authentic sources with the person or the organisation concerned to elicit his / her or its version, comments or reaction and publish the same with due amendments in the report where necessary. In the event of lack or absence of response, a footnote to that effect should be appended to the report.
  3. Caution against defamatory writings
    A newspaper should not publish anything which is manifestly defamatory or libellous against any individual organisation unless after due care and checking, they have sufficient reason to believe that it is true and its publication will be for public good.
  4. Truth is no defence for publishing derogatory, scurrilous and defamatory material against a private citizen where no public interest is involved.
  5. No personal remarks which may be considered or construed to be derogatory in nature against a dead person should be published except in rare cases of public interest, as the dead person cannot possibly contradict or deny those remarks.
  6. The press shall not rely on objectionable past behaviour of a citizen for basing the scathing comments with reference to fresh action of that person. If public good requires such reference, the press should make pre-publication inquiries from the authorities concerned about the follow-up action, if any, in regard to those adverse actions.
  7. The press has a duty, discretion and right to serve the public interest by drawing reader's attention to citizens of doubtful antecedents and of questionable character but as responsible journalists they should observe due restraint and caution in hazarding their own opinion or conclusion in branding these persons as 'cheats' or 'killers' etc. The cardinal principle being that the guilt of a person should be established by proof of facts alleged and not by proof of the bad character of the accused. In the zest to expose, the press should not exceed the limits of ethical caution and fair comments.
  8. Where the impugned publication are manifestly injurious to the reputation of the complainant, the onus shall be on the respondent to show that they were true or to establish that they constituted for comment made in good faith and for public good.
  9. Parameters of the right of the press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials 
    So far as the government, local authority and other organs / institutions exercising governmental power are concerned, they cannot maintain a suit for damages for acts and conduct relevant to the discharge of their official duties unless the official establishes that the publication was made with reckless disregard for the truth. However, the judiciary which is protected by the power to punish for contempt of court and the parliament and legislatures, protected as their privileges are by Articles 105 and 194 respectively, of the constitution of India, represent exception to this rule.
  10. Publication of news or comments / information on public officials conducting investigations should have a tendency to help the commission of offences or to impede the prevention or detection of offences or prosecution of the guilty. The investigative agency is also under a corresponding obligation not to leak out or disclose such information or indulge in disinformation.
  11. The Official Secrets Act, 1923 or any other similar enactment or provision having the force of law equally bind the press or media though there is no law empowering the state or its officials to prohibit, or to impose a prior restraint upon the press / media.
  12. Cartoons and caricatures in depicting good humour are to be placed in a special category of news that enjoy more liberal attitude.
  13. Right to privacy 
    The press shall not intrude or invade the privacy of an individual unless outweighed by genuine overriding public interest, not being a prurient or morbid curiosity. So, however, that once a matter becomes a matter of public record, the right to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes a legitimate subject for comment by press and media among others. Explanation: Things concerning a person's home, family, religion, health, sexuality, personal life and private affairs are covered by the concept of privacy excepting where any of these impinges upon the public or public interest.
  14. Caution against identification: While reporting crime involving rape, abduction or kidnap of women / females or sexual assault on children, or raising doubts and questions touching the chastity, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.
  15. Minor children and infants who are the offspring of sexual abuse or 'forcible marriage' or illicit sexual union shall not be identified or photographed.
  16. Recording interviews and phone conversation 
    The press shall not tape-record anyone's conversation without that person's knowledge or consent, except where the recording is necessary to protect the journalist in a legal action, or for other compelling good reason.
  17. The press shall, prior to publication, delete offensive epithets used by an interviewer in conversation with the pressperson.
  18. Intrusion through photography into moments of personal grief shall be avoided. However, photography of victims of accidents or natural calamity may be in larger public interest.
  19. Conjecture, comment and fact 
    A newspaper should not pass on or elevate conjecture, speculation or comment as a statement of fact. All these categories should be distinctly stated.
  20. Newspapers to eschew suggestive guilt 
    Newspapers should eschew suggestive guilt by association. They should not name or identify the family or relatives or associates of a person convicted or accused of a crime, when they are totally innocent and a reference to them is not relevant to the matter reported.
  21. It is contrary to the norms of journalism for a paper to identify itself with and project the case of any one party in the case of any controversy / dispute.
  22. Corrections 
    When any factual error or mistake is detected or confirmed, the newspaper should publish the correction promptly with due prominence and with apology or expression of regrets in a case of serious lapse.
  23. Right of reply 
    The newspaper should promptly and with due prominence, publish either in full or with due editing, free of cost, at the instance of the person affected or feeling aggrieved / or concerned by the impugned publication, a contradiction / reply / clarification or rejoinder sent to the editor in the form of a letter or note. If the editor doubts the truth or factual accuracy of the contradiction / reply / clarification or rejoinder, he shall be at liberty to add separately at the end a brief editorial comment doubting its veracity, but only when this doubt is reasonably founded on unimpeachable documentary or other evidential material in his / her possession. This is a concession which has to be availed of sparingly with due discretion and caution in appropriate cases.
  24. However, where the reply / contradiction or rejoinder is being published in compliance with the discretion of the Press Council, it is permissible to append a brief editorial note to that effect.
  25. Right of rejoinder cannot be claimed through the medium of press conference, as publication of a news of a conference is within the discretionary powers of an editor.
  26. Freedom of the press involves the readers' right to know all sides of an issue of public interest. An editor, therefore, shall not refuse to publish the reply or rejoinder merely on the ground that in his opinion the story published in the newspaper was true. That is an issue to be left to the judgement of the readers. It also does not behove an editor to show contempt towards a reader.
  27. Letters to editor
    An editor who decides to open his columns for letters on a controversial subject, is not obliged to publish all the letters received in regard to that subject. He is entitled to select and publish only some of them either in entirety or the gist thereof. However, in exercising this discretion, he must make an honest endeavour to ensure that what is published is not one-sided but represents a fair balance between the views for and against with respect to the principal issue in controversy.
  28. In the event of rejoinder upon rejoinder being sent by two parties on a controversial subject, the editor has the discretion to decide at which stage to close the continuing column.
  29. Obscenity and vulgarity to be eschewed
    Newspapers / journalists shall not publish anything which is obscene, vulgar or offensive to public good taste.
  30. Newspapers shall not display advertisements which are vulgar or which, through depiction of a woman in nude or lewd posture, provoke lecherous attention of males as if she herself was a commercial commodity for sale.
  31. Whether a picture is obscene or not, is to be judged in relation to three tests; namely 
    i) Is it vulgar and indecent? 
    ii) Is it a piece of mere pornography?
    iii) Is its publication meant merely to make money by titillating the sex feelings of adolescents and among whom it is intended to circulate? In other words, does it constitute an unwholesome exploitation for commercial gain. Other relevant considerations are whether the picture is relevant to the subject matter of the magazine. That is to say, whether its publication serves any preponderating social or public purpose, in relation to art, painting, medicine, research or reform of sex.
  32. Violence not to be glorified
    Newspapers / journalists shall avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies the perpetrators' acts, declarations or death in the eyes of the public.
  33. Glorification / encouragement of social evils to be eschewed Newspapers shall not allow their columns to be misused for writings which have a tendency to encourage or glorify social evils like sati pratha or ostentatious celebrations.
  34. Covering communal disputes / clashes
    News, views or comments relating to communal or religious disputes / clashes shall be published after proper verification of facts and presented with due caution and restraint in a manner which is conducive to the creation of an atmosphere congenial to communal harmony, amity and peace. Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided. Acts of communal violence or vandalism shall be reported in a manner as may not undermine the people's confidence in the law and order machinery of the state. Giving community-wise figures of the victims of communal riot, or writing about the incident in a style which is likely to inflame passions, aggravate the tension, or accentuate the strained relations between the communities / religious groups concerned, or which has a potential to exacerbate the trouble, shall be avoided.
  35. Headings not to be sensational / provocative and must justify the matter printed under them
    In general and particularly in the context of communal disputes or clashes - a. Provocative and sensational headlines are to be avoided; b. Headings must reflect and justify the matter printed under them; c. Headings containing allegations made in statements should either identify the body or the source making it or at least carry quotation marks.
  36. Caste, religion or community references
    In general, the caste identification of a person or a particular class should be avoided, particularly when in the context it conveys a sense or attributes a conduct or practice derogatory to that caste.
  37. Newspapers are advised against the use of word 'scheduled caste' or 'harijan' which has been objected to by some persons.
  38. An accused or a victim shall not be described by his caste or community when the same does not have anything to do with the offence or the crime and plays no part either in the identification of any accused or proceeding, if there be any.
  39. Newspapers should not publish any fictional literature distorting and portraying religious characters in an adverse light, transgressing the norms of literary taste and offending the religious susceptibilities of large sections of society who hold those characters in high esteem, invested with attributes of the virtuous and lofty.
  40. Commercial exploitation of the name of prophets, seers or deities is repugnant to journalistic ethics and good taste.
  41. Reporting on natural calamities
    Facts and data relating to spread of epidemics or natural calamities shall be checked up thoroughly from authentic sources and then published with due restraint in a manner bereft of sensationalism, exaggeration, surmises or unverified facts.
  42. Paramount national interest
    Newspapers shall, as a matter of self-regulation, exercise due restraint and caution in presenting any news, comment or information which is likely to jeopardise, endanger or harm the paramount interests of the state and society, or the rights of individuals with respect to which reasonable restrictions may be imposed by law on the right to freedom of speech and expression under clause (2) of Article 19 of the constitution of India.
  43. Publication of wrong / incorrect map is a very serious offence, whatever the reason, as it adversely affects the territorial integrity of the country and warrants prompt and prominent retraction with regrets.
  44. Newspapers may expose misuse of diplomatic immunity
    The media shall make every possible effort to build bridges of co-operation, friendly relations and better understanding between India and foreign states. At the same time, it is the duty of a newspaper to expose any misuse or undue advantage of the diplomatic immunities.
  45. Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters
    Investigative reporting has three basic elements. a. It has to be the work of the reporter, not of others he is reporting; b. The subject should be of public importance for the reader to know; c. An attempt is being made to hide the truth from the people. 
    (i) The first norm follows as a necessary corollary from (a) that the investigative reporter should, as a rule, base his story on facts investigated, detected and verified by himself and not on hearsay or on derivative evidence collected by a third party, not checked up from direct, authentic sources by the reporter himself.
    (ii) There being a conflict between the factors which require openness and those which necessitate secrecy, the investigative journalist should strike and maintain in his report a proper balance between openness on the one hand and secrecy on the other, placing the public good above everything. 
    (iii) The investigative journalist should resist the temptation of quickies or quick gains conjured up from half-baked incomplete, doubtful facts, not fully checked up and verified from authentic sources by the reporter himself. 
    (iv) Imaginary facts, or ferreting out or conjecturing the non-existent should be scrupulously avoided. Facts, facts and yet more facts are vital and they should be checked and cross-checked whenever possible until the moment the paper goes to press. 
    (v) The newspaper must adopt strict standards of fairness and accuracy of facts. Findings should be presented in an objective manner, without exaggerating or distorting, that would stand up in a court of law, if necessary. 
    (vi) The reporter must not approach the matter or the issue under investigation, in a manner as though he were the prosecutor or counsel for the prosecution. The reporter's approach should be fair, accurate and balanced. All facts properly checked up, both for and against the core issues, should be distinctly and separately stated, free from any one-sided inferences or unfair comments. The tone and tenor of the report and its language should be sober, decent and dignified, and not needlessly offensive, barbed, derisive or castigatory, particularly while commenting on the version of the person whose alleged activity or misconduct is being investigated. Nor should the investigative reporter conduct the proceedings and pronounce his verdict of guilt or innocence against the person whose alleged criminal acts and conduct were investigated, in a manner as if he were a court trying the accused. 
    (vii) In all proceedings including the investigation, presentation and publication of the report, the investigative journalist's newspaper should be guided by the paramount principle of criminal jurisprudence, that a person is innocent unless the offence alleged against him is proved beyond doubt by independent, reliable evidence.
    (viii) The private life, even of a public figure, is his own. Exposition or invasion of his personal privacy or private life is not permissible unless there is clear evidence that the wrong-doings in question have a reasonable nexus with the misuse of his public position or power and has an adverse impact on public interest. 
    (ix) Though the legal provisions of criminal procedure do not in terms, apply to investigating proceedings by a journalist, the fundamental principles underlying them can be adopted as a guide on grounds of equity, ethics and good conscience.
  46. Confidence to be respected 
    If information is received from a confidential source, the confidence should be respected. The journalist cannot be compelled by the Press Council to disclose such source; but it shall not be regarded as a breach of journalistic ethics if the source is voluntarily disclosed in proceedings before the council by the journalist who considers it necessary to repel effectively a charge against him / her. This rule requiring a newspaper not to publish matters disclosed to it in confidence, is not applicable where: 
    (a) consent of the source is subsequently obtained; or 
    (b) the editor clarified by way of an appropriate footnote that since the publication of certain matters were in the public interest, the information in question was being published although it had been made 'off the record'.
  47. Caution in criticising judicial acts
    Excepting where the court sits 'in-camera' or directs otherwise, it is open to a newspaper to report pending judicial proceedings, in a fair, accurate and reasonable manner. But it shall not publish anything --which, in its direct and immediate effect, creates a substantial risk of obstructing, impeding or prejudicing seriously the due administration of justice; or -- is in the nature of a running commentary or debate, or records the paper's own findings, conjectures, reflection or comments on issues, sub judice and which may amount to arrogation to the newspaper the functions of the court; or -- regarding the personal character of the accused standing trial on a charge of committing a crime. The newspaper shall not as a matter of caution, publish or comment on evidence collected as a result of investigative journalism, when, after the accused is arrested and charged, the court becomes seized of the case. Nor should they reveal, comment upon or evaluate a confession allegedly made by the accused.
  48. While newspapers may, in the public interest, make reasonable criticism of a judicial act or the judgement of a court for public good; they shall not cast scurrilous aspersions on, or impute improper motives, or personal bias to the judge. Nor shall they scandalise the court or the judiciary as a whole, or make personal allegations of lack of ability or integrity against a judge.
  49. The newspaper shall, as a matter of caution, avoid unfair and unwarranted criticism which, by innuendo, attributes to a judge extraneous consideration for performing an act in due course of his / her judicial functions, even if such criticism does not strictly amount to criminal contempt of court.
  50. Newspapers to avoid crass commercialism
    While newspapers are entitled to ensure, improve or strengthen their financial viability by all legitimate means, the press shall not engage in crass commercialism or unseemly cut-throat commercial competition with their rivals in a manner repugnant to high professional standards and good taste.
  51. Predatory price wars / trade competition among newspapers, laced with tones disparaging the products of each other, initiated and carried on in print, assume the colour of unfair 'trade' practice, repugnant to journalistic ethics. The question as when it assumes such an unethical character, is one of the fact depending on the circumstances of each case.
  52. Plagiarism
    Using or passing off the writings or ideas of another as one's own, without crediting the source, is an offence against the ethics of journalism.
  53. Unauthorised lifting of news
    The practice of lifting news from other newspapers publishing them subsequently as their own, ill-comports the high standards of journalism. To remove its unethicality, the 'lifting' newspaper must duly acknowledge the source of the report. The position of features articles is different from 'news'. Feature articles shall not be lifted without permission and proper acknowledgement.
  54. The press shall not reproduce in any form offending portions or excerpts from a proscribed book.
  55. Non-return of unsolicited material
    A paper is not bound to return unsolicited material sent for consideration of publication. However, when the same is accompanied by a stamped envelope, the paper should make all efforts to return it.
  56. Advertisements
    Commercial advertisements are information as much as social, economic or political information. What is more, advertisements shape attitude and ways of life at least as much as other kinds of information and comment. Journalistic propriety demands that advertisements must be clearly distinguishable from editorial matters carried in the newspaper.
  57. A newspaper shall not publish anything which has a tendency to malign wholesale or hurt the religious sentiments of any community or section of society.
  58. Advertisements which offend the provisions of the Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, 1954, should be rejected.
  59. Newspapers should not publish an advertisement containing anything which is unlawful or illegal, or is contrary to good taste or to journalistic ethics or proprieties.
  60. Newspapers while publishing advertisements, shall specify the amount received by them. The rationale behind this is that advertisements should be charged at rates usually chargeable by a newspaper since payment of more than the normal rates would amount to a subsidy to the paper.
  61. Publication of dummy advertisements that have neither been paid for, nor authorised by the advertisers, constitute breach of journalistic ethics.
  62. Deliberate failure to publish an advertisement in all the copies of a newspaper offends against the standards of journalistic ethics and constitutes gross professional misconduct.
  63. There should be no lack of vigilance or a communication gap between the advertisement department and the editorial department of a newspaper in the matter of considering the propriety or otherwise of an advertisement received for publication.
  64. The editors should insist on their right to have the final say in the acceptance or rejection of advertisements, specially those which border on or cross the line between decency and obscenity.
  65. An editor shall be responsible for all matters, including advertisements published in the newspaper. If responsibility is disclaimed, this shall be explicitly stated beforehand.
    Back to top

Guidelines on specific issues

A) Guidelines for observance by the press in the wake of communal disturbances 1969
Recognising that the press which enjoys the utmost freedom of expression has a great and vital role to play in educating and moulding public opinion on correct lines in regard to the need for friendly and harmonious relations between the various communities and religious groups forming the fabric of Indian political life and in mirroring the conscience of the best minds of the country to achieve national solidarity, the Press Council of India considers that this object would be defeated, communal peace and harmony disturbed and national unity disrupted if the press does not strictly adhere to proper norms and standards in reporting on or commenting on matters which bear on communal relations. 

Without attempting to be exhaustive, the council considers the following as offending against journalistic proprieties and ethics: 

1. Distortion or exaggeration of facts or incidents in relation to communal matters or giving currency to unverified rumours, suspicions or inferences as if they were facts and base their comments on them.

2. Employment of intemperate or unrestrained language in the presentation of news or views, even as a piece of literary flourish or for the purpose of rhetoric or emphasis.

3. Encouraging or condoning violence even in the face of provocation as a means of obtaining redress of grievances whether the same be genuine or not.

4. While it is the legitimate function of the press to draw attention to the genuine and legitimate grievances of any community with a view to having the same redressed by all peaceful, legal and legitimate means, it is improper and a breach of journalistic ethics to invent grievances, or to exaggerate real grievances, as these tend to promote communal ill-feeling and accentuate discord.

5. Scurrilous and untrue attacks on communities, or individuals, particularly when this is accompanied by charges attributing misconduct to them as due to their being members of a particular community or caste.

6. Falsely giving a communal colour to incidents which might occur in which members of different communities happen to be involved.

7. Emphasising matters that are not to produce communal hatred or ill-will, or fostering feelings of distrust between communities.

8. Publishing alarming news which are in substance untrue or make provocative comments on such news or even otherwise calculated to embitter relations between different communities or regional or linguistic groups.

9. Exaggerating actual happenings to achieve sensationalism and publication of news which adversely affect communal harmony with banner headlines or in distinctive types.

10. Making disrespectful, derogatory or insulting remarks on or reference to the different religions or faiths or their founders.

Guidelines issued by the Press Council for observance by the state governments and the media in relation to communal disturbances 1991 
i. The state government should take upon themselves the responsibility of keeping a close watch on the communal writings that might spark off tension, destruction and death, and bring them to the notice of the council;

ii. The government may have occasion to take action against erring papers or editors. But it must do so within the bounds of law. If newsmen are arrested, or search-and-seizure operations become necessary, it would be healthy convention if such developments could be reported to the Press Council within 24 to 48 hours followed by a detailed note within a week;

iii. Under no circumstances must the authorities resort to vindictive measures like cut in advertisements, cancellation of accreditation, cut in newsprint quota and other facilities;

iv. Provocative and sensational headlines should be avoided by the press;

v. Headings must reflect and justify the master primed under them;

vi. Figures of casualties given in headlines should preferably be on the lower side in case or doubt about their exactness and where the numbers reported by various sources differ widely;

vii. Headings containing allegations made in statements should either identify the person / body making the allegation or, at least, should carry quotation marks;

viii. News reports should be devoid of comments and value judgement;

ix. Presentation of news should not be motivated or guided by partisan feelings, nor should it appear to be so;

x. Language employed in writing the news should be temperate and such as may foster feelings or amity among communities and groups;

xi. Corrections should be promptly published with due prominence and regrets expressed in serious cases; and

xii. It will help a great deal if in-service training is given to journalists for inculcation of all these principles.
Back to top

Guidelines issued by the Press Council on January 21-22, 1993 in the wake of the Ram Janambhoomi - Babri Masjid dispute

Guidelines for guarding against the commission of the following journalistic improprieties and unethicalities
1. Distortion or exaggeration of facts or incidents in relation to communal matters or giving currency to unverified rumours, suspicions or inferences as if they were facts and base their comment on them. 

2. Employment of intemperate or unrestrained language in the presentation of news or views, even as a piece of literary flourish or for the purpose of rhetoric or emphasis. 

3. Encouraging or condoning violence even in the face of provocation as a means of obtaining redress of grievance whether the same be genuine or not. 

4. While it is the legitimate function of the press to draw attention to the genuine and legitimate grievances of any community with a view to having the same redressed by all peaceful legal and legitimate means, it is improper and a breach of journalistic ethics to invent grievances, or to exaggerate real grievances, as these tend to promote communal ill-feeling and accentuate discord. 

5. Scurrilous and untrue attacks on communities, or individuals, particularly when this is accompanied by charges attributing misconduct to them as due to their being members of a particular community or caste.

6. Falsely giving a communal colour to incidents which might occur in which members of different communities happen to be involved. 

7. Emphasising matters that are apt to produce communal hatred or ill-will, or fostering feelings of distrust between communities.

8. Publishing alarming news which are in substance untrue or make provocative comments on such news or even otherwise calculated to embitter relations between different communities or regional or linguistic groups. 

9. Exaggerating actual happenings to achieve sensationalism and publication of news which adversely affect communal harmony with banner headlines or distinctive types.

10. Making disrespectful, derogatory or insulting remarks on or reference to the different religions or faiths or their founders.
Back to top

B) Coverage of handouts of militants / terrorists

Guiding principles arising out of a complaint against the publication of some ULFA handouts / threat notes by a newspaper of Assam
The Press Council has enunciated some general principles for the guidance of the press. These are in tune with the recommendations of the Press Council of India Report on Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, adopted by the Press Council in January, 1991. These guiding principles considered by the council in September 1992, are as follows:

Dictates or 'press notes' commanding newspapers to publish them, under duress or threats of dire consequence, emanating from elements wedded to violence, constitute "the gravest assault on the freedom of the press which is one of the surest guarantors of a democratic and plural society".

Generally, such dictates or notes are not newsworthy per se. Their publication tends to demoralise the public and to affect adversely public, police and security. The publication not only compromises the freedom and independence of the newspaper concerned, but also constitutes an offence against the standards of journalistic ethics and professional responsibility.

This is not to say that if there is anything newsworthy in a 'press note' emanating from any source, it should be blacked-out altogether, because 'self-censorship' may be "no less dangerous for being insidious". The essential point is that editors must exercise due caution and circumspection in considering the dissemination of such press notes.

If the whole of the note is not pernicious, then it may be edited, its objectionable portions removed and language toned down so that whatever is truly newsworthy gets disseminated in a balanced manner. However, where the 'news' and the objectionable portions are inextricably mixed up, violating the entire warp and woof of the 'press note', it will be prudent to withhold its publication altogether.

This is not an easy way out, as the media's experience of militancy in Punjab has amply demonstrated. More than 50 media personnel have lost their lives in terrorist attacks and ignoring a militant press note can lead and has often led, to death of innocent and defenceless media persons.

Any show of editorial defence and courage is likely to be seen by defenceless employees of newspapers as exposing them to avoidable dangers. Editors and proprietors under these circumstances have little room for manoeuvres. A workable expedient that proved useful in Punjab, is for the government to be in close touch with newspapers so that objectionable and anti-national press notes from groups swearing by violence could be removed from newspapers before publication.

Even though this may be seen as a form of pre-censorship, this arrangement saved lives and spared newspapers from difficult and delicate choices. There is however a danger of a wilful administration using this process to muzzle the press and misuse its authority under the law to define 'objectionable material' on its own terms.

Strict procedures must therefore be laid down. Orders passed under any legislation in this regard from time to time in relation to publication of allegedly 'objectionable matter' should be subjected to some kind of appellate review so as to curb any propensity to arbitrary action. The principal legislation and rules made thereunder should also be periodically reviewed in the light of changing circumstances. These safeguards should be built into all such press legislation.

C) Aids and the media

The mass media should help set an agenda for the country to fight the Aids pandemic in co-ordination with the government, the medical profession and the voluntary agencies. So far, the media in India have treated Aids more as news than as a growing menace and scourge threatening both human lives and dignity.

An exploratory content-analysis study conducted by the Operations Research Group during 1989-90 revealed the inadequacy of print media coverage on Aids in India. The coverage of prominent urban dailies focussed more on clinical diagnostic research on Aids in western countries, and little on the Aids problem in India and its social implications.

There were very few independent reports on Aids and the sources of most stories were international agencies. Further, most stories were located in inside pages or in supplements, and, content-wise were superficial in nature. Since the disclosures of the survey, until 1992, the quality and quantity of newspaper coverage on Aids in India has not changed much while the relative quantity of Aids coverage is on the rise, and while a greater recognition exists on the part of the print media about the problem of Aids in India, newspapers are to quote experts, still 'reactive' rather than 'proactive'. 
Back to top

Dos and don'ts 
From sporadic news, Aids must become a campaign target for our mass media with the following components of dos and don'ts:

  • The media must inform and educate the people, not alarm or scare them. The emphasis must be on the fact that HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) can be prevented from going into unaffected humans. Aids takes around 10 years to develop and HIV is a virus which does not survive for long outside a body. Thus, it is not spread by casual contact, hugging or kissing or through food or water or through insects. 
  • The media must hammer home the point that Aids, through sexual transmission or blood infection, can be prevented. Minimum precaution of the use of condoms in sex, and sterilisation of skin-piercing instruments and their prompt disposal after use. 
  • The media must report every case pertaining to Aids, be it positive or negative. There must be a constant liaison between the media and the medical profession to report on latest developments and research findings. 
  • The media must highlight and crusade against such practice as quarantine, isolation and ostracism of Aids patients. Besides being an affront to human dignity, those practices will not help minimise Aids infection, and are injurious to public health as 'they give a false sense of security to people outside the stigmatised group that the threat of infection has been removed and the need for precaution minimised.' Also, such practices will drive the Aids problem underground and make the campaign against the scourge more difficult. Community education, using all the latest expertise of mass education and behavioural scientists and media experts, has to play a crucial role in spreading the message about preventing this dreaded infection. Option builders of the society (political and religious leaders, movie and sports personalities, other famous persons) must take the leadership in educating the public about Aids and how to avoid contracting this infection. The innovative use of media and a positive reporting attitude of the media will go a long way in making the Aids awareness campaign a success. 
  • The media must force the authorities to impose rigorous blood-testing norms on prostitutes and professional women and issue periodical warnings to the public about areas where the incidence of Aids has high probability. 
  • The media must help the authorities in eliminating commercial blood collection and pre-testing of all blood donors for HIV and other diseases. 
  • The media must as a role respect the right to privacy of Aids patients and must not subject them to needless exposure and social stigma. 
  • Every mass medium must observe the terms of the final document of the international consultation of Aids and human rights, and promptly report the violation of such rights protecting the basic human rights to life and liberty, privacy and freedom of movement.

D) Guidelines for financial journalists

1. The Press Council of India has counselled reporters / financial journalists / newspaper establishments to refrain from receiving any gifts / grants / concessions / facilities, etc., either in cash or kind which are likely to compromise free and unbiased reporting on financial matters. 

2. The council in its report has observed that financial journalists today enjoy considerable influence over readers' minds and, therefore, they owe it to them to present a balanced and objective view of the financial dealings, status and prospects of a company. It observed that some companies are given excessive news coverage in the newspapers / magazines because they have issued advertisements to that print media. Sometimes, adverse reports are published of those companies which do not give advertisements to the newspapers or magazines. Again, when a media is not happy with any company / management for whatever reason, the negative aspects of the company are highlighted, while in the reverse situation, no negative aspects are brought to light. Some companies are also known to give gifts, loans, discounts, preferential shares, etc., to certain financial journalists to receive favourable and positive reports of the companies. At the same time, there is no mechanism for investors' education or for raising public opinion against such unhealthy practices. 

3. The council feeling concerned over the malpractice in the corporate sector and after holding detailed deliberations and discussions with the representatives of financial institutions and journalists, has recommended the guidelines enumerated below for observance by the financial journalists:

  • The financial journalists should not accept gifts, loans, trips, discounts, preferential shares or other considerations which compromise or are likely to compromise his position.
  • It should be mentioned prominently in the report about any company that the report is based on information given by the company or the financial sponsors of the company.
  • When the trips are sponsored for visiting establishments of a company, the author of the report who has availed of the trip must state invariably that the visit was sponsored by the company concerned and that it had also extended the hospitality as the case may be.
  • No matter related to the company should be published without verifying the facts from the company and the source of such report should also be disclosed.
  • A reporter who exposes a scam or brings out a report for promotion of a good project, should be encouraged and awarded.
  • A journalist who has financial interests such as share holdings, stock holdings, etc., in a company, should not report on that company.
  • The journalist should not use for his own benefit or for the benefit of his relations and friends, information received by him in advance for publication.
  • No newspaper owner, editor or anybody connected with a newspaper should use his relations with the newspaper to promote his other business interests.
  • Whenever there is an indictment of a particular advertising agency or advertiser by the Advertising Council of India, the newspaper in which the advertisement was published must publish the news of indictment prominently.
    Back to top

E) Guidelines expected to be observed by the newspapers, journalists, etc., while publishing reports on elections

General elections are a very important feature of our democracy and it is imperative that the media transmits to the electorate fair and objective reports of the election campaign by the contesting parties. Freedom of the press depends to a large measure on the press itself behaving with a sense of responsibility.

It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the media adheres to this principle of fair and objective reporting of the election campaign. The Press Council has, therefore, formulated the following guidelines to the media for observance during elections: 

  • It will be the duty of the press to give objective reports about elections and candidates. The newspapers are not expected to indulge in unhealthy election campaigns, exaggerated reports about any candidate / party or incident during the elections. In practice, two or three closely contesting candidates attract all the media attention. While reporting on the actual campaign, a newspaper may not leave out any important point raised by a candidate and make an attack on his or her opponent.
  • Election campaign along communal or caste lines is banned under the election rules. Hence, the press should eschew reports which tend to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between people on the ground of religion, race, caste, community or language.
  • The press should refrain from publishing false or critical statements in regard to the personal character and conduct of any candidate or in relation to the candidature or withdrawal of any candidate or his candidature, to prejudice the prospects of that candidate in the elections. The press shall not publish unverified allegations against any candidate / party.
  • The press shall not accept any kind of inducement, financial or otherwise, to project a candidate / party. It shall not accept hospitality or other facilities offered to them by or on behalf of any candidate / party.
  • The press is not expected to indulge in canvassing of a particular candidate / party. If it does, it shall allow the right of reply to the other candidate / party.
  • The press shall not accept / publish any advertisement at the cost of public exchequer regarding achievements of a party / government in power.
  • The press shall observe all the directions / orders / instructions of the election commission / returning officers or chief electoral officer issued from time to time.

Guidelines for pre-poll / exit-poll survey

The Press Council of India having considered the question of desirability or otherwise of publication of findings of pre-poll surveys and the purpose served by them, is of the view that the newspapers should not allow their forum to be used for distortions and manipulations of the elections and should not allow themselves to be exploited by interested parties. 

  • The Press Council, therefore, advises that in view of the crucial position occupied by the electoral process in a representative democracy like ours, the newspapers should be on guard against their precious forum being used for distortions and manipulations of the elections. This has become necessary to emphasise today since the print media is sought to be increasingly exploited by the interested individuals and groups to misguide and mislead unwary voters by subtle and not-so-subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnic basis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged pre-poll surveys. While the communal and seditious propaganda is not difficult to detect in many cases, the interested use of the pre-poll survey, sometimes deliberately planted, is not so easy to uncover. The Press Council, therefore, suggests that whenever the newspapers publish pre-poll surveys, they should take care to preface them conspicuously by indicating the institutions which have carried such surveys, the individuals and organisations which have commissioned the surveys, the size and nature of the sample selected, the method of selection of the sample for the findings and the possible margin of error in the findings.
  • Further in the event of staggered poll dates, the media is seen to carry exit-poll surveys of the polls already held. This is likely to influence the voters where the polling is yet to commence. With a view to ensure that the electoral process is kept pure and the voters' minds are not influenced by any external factors, it is necessary that the media does not publish the exit-poll surveys till the last poll is held.
  • The Press Council, therefore, requests the press to abide by the following guideline in respect of the exit-polls.

Guideline 
No newspaper shall publish exit-poll surveys, however, genuine they may be, till the last of the polls is over.


Back to Bare acts index