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Govt issues rash driving edict to newspapers, TV

New Delhi, June 24: Next time Mamata Banerjee hops onto a motorbike’s pillion, the Centre will expect the newspaper and television pictures to carry a warning: “Riding without helmets is illegal and dangerous.”

An official, though, explained that the letter the Union information and broadcasting ministry had dashed off to TV channels and newspapers yesterday was “advisory” and not binding “as of now”.

The letter warned against portraying or “glorifying” rash or dangerous driving as well as helmet-less riding and a failure to fasten car seatbelts.

While speeding is an increasingly serious concern on Indian roads — The Telegraph carried a front-page report this morning on how accidents were turning deadlier — the ministry letter was shrouded in obscurity.

The directive, and ministry officials this newspaper spoke to, failed to explain how a news report or photograph can glorify speeding though the letter insisted that its strictures extended to “stills”.

Does a newspaper report/picture on a road accident that mentions the casualties and the bereaved families’ pain need to add the “speeding kills” tagline? Does TV coverage of Formula I racing, or footage of US police chasing a suspect, or that of a political bike rally?

All that a senior official would say was that the Union road transport and highways ministry had raised concerns about the print media and TV programmes, particularly “soaps and news features”, showing rough driving that can influence young minds.

He couldn’t say if the ministry was thinking of issuing a similar directive to the movie industry.

“All TV channels/Doordarshan/print media are advised to be extremely careful in portraying such stills/images/scenes which depict rash, negligent or dangerous driving; and in case such portrayal is necessary, then it may be accompanied by appropriate messages/warnings,” the letter said.

It spelt out a few of the possible warnings: “Over speeding kills”, “Driving two-wheeler without wearing helmet is dangerous and illegal”, “Driving four-wheeler without wearing seatbelt is dangerous.”

Mamata had not worn a helmet when, on her way to the Kamduni rape-and-murder victim’s home on June 17 last year, she travelled the last kilometre along a slushy track on the back of a policeman’s motorbike.

“It is only an advisory and not a mandatory norm as of now. Hence, it won’t be binding on anybody. We are hoping that the media bodies will act responsibly, though,” the official said.

Apart from broadcasters and newspapers, the letter was sent to media bodies such as the News Broadcasters Association, Broadcast Content Complaints Council, Advertisement Standards Council of India and the Press Council of India.