‘Exposing’ an expose

[Women’s Week on The Alternative] TV9’s recent ‘sting’ operation on gays in Hyderabad had the entire nation’s LGBT community come together to protest against the gross violation of privacy.


[Women’s Week on The Alternative] TV9’s recent ‘sting’ operation on gays in Hyderabad had the entire nation’s LGBT community come together to protest against the gross violation of privacy.

In a shocking violation of media ethics, the widely viewed TV 9 Telegu channel on 22 February aired a news report on ‘Gay Culture’ in Hyderabad that outed gay men who used a popular social networking site in the city. The journalist who did this expose registered on this site, chatted with gay men on the site, asked them leading questions related to their sexual preferences on the telephone, and broadcast all of this without blocking out faces and names of those involved. This episode was rebroadcast the next day, despite protests from the LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) community across India. The Bangalore English channel News 9 (which is part of the same group of channels), and then re-telecast a modified version of the story, but posing the problem not as homosexuality but as public sex. While the channel blocked the faces of the people shown in the Telegu telecast, they outed a few more men when they showed very detailed footage of a gay party in Hyderabad obviously filmed with a hidden camera.

T-shirts crying against the alleged distasteful coverage of TV9. Pic: ALF

T-shirts crying against the alleged distasteful coverage of TV9. Pic: ALF

While all of this was going on, one was left wondering what the purpose of these telecasts was. Not only were they in gross violation of the News Broadcasting Association (NBA)’ s guidelines related to privacy and sting operations, these broadcasts seemed incongruent given the Delhi High Court’s 2009 Naz Foundation judgement decriminalizing homosexuality in India. The only remotely justifiable part of the telecasts was a small bit in the Telegu broadcast that showed how some people took advantage of the social ostracism of gay men to blackmail them. What should have been obvious to the journalists concerned and to the TV9 management was that the public outing of the gay men in this programme could have serious consequences on their lives in a country where it is legal to be homosexual, but not always socially acceptable.

This is not the first time that TV9 has violated the right to privacy of marginalized communities in India. Their sting operations on sex workers for instance which they justify on the basis of morality has had serious consequences on the lives of the sex workers’ community including threats of violence. While privacy rights is still a highly contentious debate in India it is universally agreed that violations of privacy cannot be justified in every case, and there must be a larger public good that the channel has to show.

Protestors with posters, slogans and placards in Bangalore. Pic: ALF

Protestors with posters, slogans and placards in Bangalore. Pic: ALF

The expose drew strong protests from the LGBT community and from civil society organisations in Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. In Hyderabad LGBT organisations in a rare (and brave) move, organized protests outside TV9’s headquarters and then submitted a petition to them. Interestingly, the protest was covered by both the regional and English language media in Hyderabad. In Mumbai, protesters delivered flowers to the TV9 office demonstrating anger through an act of ‘Gandhigiri’. There has been a concerted effort on You Tube and other online platforms to remove the recording of the programme from being posted online. You Tube removed the clip after receiving a barrage of messages from users who flagged the clip as inappropriate.

The contention of civil society organizations is that TV9 has violated the NBA’s Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards instituted in April, 2008 on privacy, which say that as a rule channels must not intrude on private lives or personal affairs of individuals, unless there is a clearly established larger and identifiable public interest for such a broadcast. The guidelines also state that the underlying principle that news channels abide by is that the intrusion of the private spaces, records, transcripts, telephone conversations and any other material will not be for salacious interest, but only when warranted in the public interest. Civil society organisations have also stated that TV9‘s coverage in this instance violated the NBA’s guidelines on sting operations that state that while conducting sting operations, news channels will ensure that they will be guided by an identifiable larger public interest.

Strong slogans protesting against the TV9 program on gays. Pic: AL

Strong slogans protesting against the TV9 program on gays. Pic: AL

TV9 has so far remained silent on the issue. While this news report might have boosted TV9’s TRP ratings temporarily it certainly has not done much good for its reputation, or that of the broadcast media in the country. With more and more voices joining the chorus for an independent regulatory mechanism to be set up to monitor and make the electronic media accountable to its viewers, incidents like these damage the media industry’s case that self-regulation is the answer. For years now, any attempt to regulate the broadcast sector draft Broadcasting Bills in 1997 and 2007 has met fierce resistance from both civil society groups and private media players. Part of the reason has been the government’s refusal to institute an independent mechanism to govern the broadcast sector free of government interference, and a fear that government regulation would take us back to the days of state censorship when Doordarshan enjoyed a monopoly over the airwaves.

News channels have touted the recent example of media self-regulation during the Ayodhya judgement as an example of how the broadcast media is responsible and can be self regulated. However, unless TV9 or the NBA take strict action against day-to-day violations of the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards, the case for self-regulation makes very little less sense. The TV9 episode is a litmus test for the system of self-regulation that television channels have instituted to avoid government regulation of the broadcast sector.

Update: The News Broadcasting Standards Authority, New Delhi has censured TV9 to pay a fine of Rs.1,00,000 and broadcast an apology in prime time both in English and in Telugu. NBSA has determined that TV9 has violated the following codes of ethics and broadcasting standards by publishing the story “Gay culture rampant in Hyderabad”

Clause 5: Sex and Nudity

Clause 6: Privacy

Clause 9: Sting operations

As per the order issued, NBSA took suo motu cognizance of the matter and issued a show cause notice dated 24/02/2011 calling upon the Broadcaster (TV9) to respond within 14 days. Upon receiving TV9′s response a hearing was held on 15/03/2011. More details at: http://gaysifamily.com/2011/03/24/tv9-pays-the-price/


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Siddharth Narrain is a lawyer and legal researcher with the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. more

   FOLLOW US

   SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
  Top Stories on TA






  Top Stories in SOCIETY






   Get stories like this in your inbox

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Siddharth Narrain is a lawyer and legal researcher with the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. more

Discuss this article on Facebook