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Stop programmes that promote superstition on news channels

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Dear News Channel heads, PM, CM-Karnataka,

In the wake of various events related to media, especially television, unfolding in front of us, we, a group of people united for the cause of  a free and fair media, would like to put forth our concerns, which we hope you all will take in the right spirit and act on the concerns.

Of late, many regional TV channels (especially non-Englsih) have been telecasting programmes on astrology. We have great respect towards ancient scientific achievements, such as the invention of calendars merely by calculating the movement of planets and many others. However, the kind of astrology promoted on TV channels, many a time, appears to promote blind beliefs and induce fear in the society, by promoting stereotypical images of men and women.

Simply put, such programmes are a form of exploitation of the intellect of the viewers who watch such programmes.

In fact, what we are saying is not new. There are already many guidelines in place which are not being followed. Some of them are listed here:

News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA), of which all news channels are members, has laid down a code of ethics for news channels. To quote the relevant section,

Refraining from advocating or encouraging superstition and occultism : News channels will not broadcast any material that glorifies superstition and occultism in any manner. In broadcasting any news about such genre, news channels will also issue public disclaimers to ensure that viewers are not misled into believing or emulating such beliefs and activity. Therefore news channels will not broadcast “as fact” myths about “supernatural” acts, apparitions and ghosts, personal or social deviations or deviant behaviour, and recreations of the same. Wherever references are made to such cases, news channels will issue on air riders/ disclaimers/ warnings to ensure that such beliefs or events are not passed off “as fact” since they can hurt rational sensibilities. (point 8, page 5)

However, we can see many examples of blatant violations of this criteria in many news channels of all languages, tailored to amuse people, catch attention and gain TRP, but do little to provide information, education or entertainment.

News channels certainly have journalists, and are considered as press, hence the guidelines laid down by the Press Council of India (PCI) are applicable to them too. Press Council of India guidelines suggest that promoting astrological predictions is against scientific temper.

“38.  Astrological Prediction

The promotion of astrological prediction and superstitious practices is likely to produce an unsettling effect on the minds of the readers, and is thus undesirable. The editors of general interest dailies and periodicals who believe in promoting a scientific temper and in combating superstition and fatalism, should avoid publication of astrological predictions. Readers who are interested in the subject of astrology can turn to specialized publications on the subject.”

Broadcast content code released by Information & Broadcasting Ministry proposes to give an A certificate to the theme of horror and occult, by putting the following condition:

Subject Matter Treatment: While subjects or themes dealing with exorcism, the occult, the paranormal, divination, human or animal sacrifice or such other practices depicting horror may be covered only in `A’ category provided the storyline or the characters justify these and the subjects matter treatment does not in any way:
- Justify, encourage or glamorize such practices
- Instill fear or revulsion about the consequences of not following such practices
- Encourage blind belief or superstitions in the efficacy of such practices
- Enable the viewer to emulate such practices or learn their details or sources.
- Depict women as witches in programs on occult.

Above all, developing scientific temperament is a duty of Indian citizen, according to constitution of India. Telecasting scientifically unproven issues in news channels is not in tune with this.

Clearly many channels are violating these standards, in many programmes.

One such example was a programme on a channel where the astrologer predicted when and how rapes would happen, based on the birth star and zodiac sign of a person. Imagine the feelings of a kid sitting next to her dad, whose prediction turns out that she will be raped by her own father and mother! Do we need such “predictions” that can damage our society?

How will such programmes affect society?

# Let’s face it—most people believe in astrology and predictions, because we are a country of believers. We are a country where widow remarriage and marriage for divorcees are yet to be widely accepted. In such a situation, telecasting something like this will affect those believers. Effects can be many and multifaceted. It is because of such programmes and other messages in the society spread in the society that even in the era where scientific advances have taken us to Moon and Mars, most educated people reel under blind beliefs and stereotypical societal epidemics.
Such programmes are disrespectful to women and glorify rape. In the current era, where every day we hear of rapes and atrocities on women, men and children, media should empower women by imparting knowledge on self protection, how to get help, legal options etc. A case of rape is considered as a case against the state. When the constitution and laws hold rape as such a great crime equal to waging war against the state, it is improper for media to treat it as frivolous, belittle it by “predicting” and providing nonsensical “solutions” such as chanting mantras.
# On a broader perspective, the problems addressed by such astrologers and solutions provided are never scientific in nature, with nobody vouching for the authenticity of their claims. There is not even any certification available for such astrologers to judge them.
# They can create psychological fear in the minds of those who are projected to be affected. Trust will get replaced by suspicion, and “god’s will” will overtake human efforts. Unscientific, unnatural methods will replace the rational and methodical approaches to solve problems in the society. This will not help the process of nation-building.
# The valuable time and money of the viewer is wasted in the stuff that will get him or her nowhere, because we pay to watch TV. It is an investment for getting knowledge delivered inside the home. Such programmes that are neither entertaining nor educative or informative, might provide temporary solace to some, while they might catapult many others into deeper mess.
# Our future generation is going to be affected by such programmes, as young minds trust everything unassumingly. This will hinder the progress of the nation in many ways, because rational and methodical citizens with problem-solving abilities are the asset to any nation or a society; and such programmes drive the citizenry in the opposite direction.

What do we want?

Media is perceived as a reflection of the society. Media might be claiming to give what pleases people. But the communication is always two-way. People depend on media to get knowledge, from their own perceptions and even educate themselves. A TV at a home acts as a window to the world.

Therefore TV channels have the moral responsibility of airing scientifically substantiated content which is never untruth or hype. Just because people like to see something that may not be scientific, just because they believe in it, media should not be driving them in wrong direction by providing more and more such content. It is hightime news media exercised its role carefully.

In this background, we request you all to:

  1. Make the following of content code and guidelines mandatory for all TV channels by means of an Act.
  2. Put suitable monitoring system that is legally acceptable in place, to stop channels from airing such content.
  3. Take suitable action against those who break rules.

This petition has been prepared in good faith, with a view to improve the system, by a group of people from Coalition of People for Free and Objective Media. We appreciate the same news channels when they give objective news and good reports. Our objection is applicable for the programmes that spread superstition or untruth.

Detailed write up on an astrological show, from Bangalore Mirror

Sample videos of the kind of programmes we are referring to:

Disclaimer: The videos have been uploaded by the respective channels. Petitioners are not responsible for them being on the internet or for their deletion.

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