INTERFACE ON
POLICE-MEDIA RELATIONS

Organized by CDPS
Guwahati, July 19, 2009

The Centre for Development and Peace Studies organised an interface on  Police-Media Relations at Guwahati on July 19, 2009. Here is a report of the Interface inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Assam, Mr Tarun Gogoi and attended by police officers, journalists, peace and security experts, and others from around Northeast India and outside.

INAUGURAL
Welcome Address: WASBIR HUSSAIN, Director, CDPS

In his welcome address, Mr.Hussain said that there is a symbiotic yet misunderstood relationship between the police and the media. He said that in this rapidly shrinking world, the scrutiny of the media on law enforcement is increasingly intense. Police and other law enforcement agencies world-wide have recognized the need for training and professional counsel in media and public relations. He also stressed the need for police to face tough issues head-on and speak-out when news coverage is skewed or inaccurate.

Mr Hussain said that as the media and the police are performing their duties in tough situations, a better understanding between the two would result in improved synergy. He further said that the media acts as a bridge between the people and the law enforcing agencies and therefore these two components have to work in tandem to reach out to the people’s aspirations, specially in troubled times.


Keynote Address: Mr. H.K.DUA, Editor-in-chief, The Tribune, Chandigarh, and Member, National Security Advisory Board, India


In his keynote address, Mr.H.K.Dua said that the relation between police and media reflects the relation between the police and the public. He also said that unless relations between the public and police improve, the ties between media and police cannot improve. He further said that police’s image depends mostly on its performance and not on good media coverage. Police-media relations should not be too cosy as that would hinder both in discharging their respective duties. The media should keep the police on its toes through constructive criticism, he added.

Mr Dua further said that the police should respond promptly not only to the rich and powerful but also to the poor and downtrodden. Police should send a clear message to the public by performing better. He also said that excessive use of force, custodial deaths and fake encounter killings that happen in the country sully the image of police.

Stating the police should also keep the media informed within permissible limits to prevent journalists from resorting to sensationalism, Mr.Dua denounced the trend of ‘trial by media’ of events, particularly by television channels. He said that the country was left with a bad taste by insensitive TV coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks as well as the lackluster coordination among different security forces in tackling the crisis. He pointed out that there were lessons to be learnt from this.


Address by Mr. TARUN GOGOI, Chief Minister, Assam


In his address, Mr. Tarun Gogoi said that over the years, judiciary, politics, police and the media are losing their credibility and therefore there is a need for self introspection for each one of them. He said that 20 years back the situation in Assam was different. The trust that the people had on judiciary, media or politicians no longer exist. Despite all difficulties, the country is progressing, he said, and added that Assam also registered an increase in GDP growth. He agreed that transparency and performance was the key to image building for the police force which, however, should not have a relation of confrontation with the media.

He said that he had received complaints about harassment of innocent people by the men in uniform and called upon the police, army and other security agencies to ensure that no innocent people are harassed or killed during anti-insurgency operations. Urging the police department to improve its image, he said that the police needed to change their attitude and help in the process of peace and development. He also asked the media not to make insurgents ‘heroes’ by focusing too much on their activities.

The Chief Minister further said that there are complaints regarding the mingling of police personnel with militants and criminals and not registering cases against them. He urged that such attitude has to be change. He also stated the urgent need for the right type of training to imbibe a positive attitude among the police force.

He also said that insurgency is one problem with which we have to live with. There is no immediate solution to it. As such, he said that, there is a need to create a situation where all agencies including the media could work in a cohesive manner to ensure overall development of the state.

Address by Mr. G.M.SRIVASTAVA, IPS, DGP, Assam

Mr. Srivastava, in his address, laid stress on factual presentation of news. He said that building up a positive attitude is the need of the hour for the police. He, however, admitted that policemen sometimes become unnecessarily secretive due to lack of self-confidence but the media should also understand the tough job in its hand. He emphasized the need for training police personnel on how to deal with the media. On many occasions, junior officers hesitate to divulge any news without the permission of the seniors. He, however, said that the police department itself is responsible for this and this needs to be changed.

He further said that news channels try to increase their TRP and newspapers try to increase their circulation by spreading certain news without any solid facts to back them. Such things, he said, comes under yellow journalism. So, in order to build a healthy society there is a need to bring yellow journalism to a halt. He said that only when police, media, politicians and the public work together can the problems of the state be resolved.

Mr Prasanta J. Baruah , Joint Secretary (Hony.), CDPS, delivered the vote of thanks.

SESSION I
OVERVIEW: POLICE-MEDIA RELATIONS

This session was chaired by Mr. H.N.Das, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Assam. The two speakers were Mr. E.N. Rammohan, IPS (Retd.) , former DG of the Border Security Force (BSF), and Ms. Patricia Mukhim, Editor, The Shillong Times.

Address by Mr. E.N.RAMMOHAN, IPS(Retd.)

Mr. E.N.Rammohan in his presentation shared his experiences gathered during his 35 years of service as a police officer. He informed that during his earlier years of service he did not find any type of interference in his job from political quarters. He said that during those days, the police was quite independent in doing its duty and was free from any type of political or bureaucratic interference.

He narrated a few incidents that had occurred while he was in Assam and his experience as the Director General of BSF. He said that he always asked his officers to be less rough with the arrested militants and not to use force against an unarmed captive. He said that his ways surprised his fellow officers. He further said that when he had gone to Kashmir, BSF was notorious for its infamous interrogation camp, where there were many custodial deaths. After he went there, he tried to improve the image of BSF among the people.

Mr Rammohan said that there is no point in media and police accusing each other. There is no easy solution to the problem and both have to work together for the people. Police needs to be absolutely transparent in its conduct and it should not get influenced by political pressure. He said that the day one becomes a police officer, he or she loses his or her religion, his caste, his creed and becomes accountable to the public. “Khaki should be a police officer’s religion,” he said.

Address by Ms. PATRICIA MUKHIM, Editor, The Shillong Times

Ms. Patricia Mukhim in her address said that the relation between police and media is both adversarial and business-like. She said that in this challenging world, media has many roles. Thus, media do not get enough time to analyze and reanalyze its role. She said that the police through its vast range of duties and responsibilities are a part of the second and third pillars of democracy. She said that there is some convergence between the police and the media, especially during investigations.

Ms Mukhim, however, said that time has come for the police to modernize itself. The police is still guided by the archaic Police Act of 1861.The only advancements they have made is in the procurement of arms and vehicles. They still lack improvement in communication skills. Police are quite arrogant, she said, and there is a little too much show of the “khaki”. The public is also not clear about the police’s role, and as such there is a need for role-clarity on the part of the police.

She said that the relation between police and media is like that of an “incompatible couple”. Also, she said, the police and the media use each other for certain needs. Police use the media for image building and the media use the police for getting news.

OPEN DISCUSSION

The two presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following:

  • There is a need for the police to clarify its role.
  • Police should give a thought to firm up a Media Policy.
  • Media should not over hype certain news.
  • The Police need to improve communication skills.

SESSION II
MEDIA-POLICE INTERCTION

The second session began with a power point presentation on Police-Media Relations by Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS.  In the presentation, he gave an overview of the relation between the police and the media. He also highlighted the media stereotypes about the police and the perception of the police about the media. He said that free and independent media are a key element in democracy and it plays a vital role in keeping the Government and citizens aware of and in contact with each other. He added that effective and independent media can function as a watchdog on governance and can hold the Government to account for their policies & management of the public sphere. Similarly, police is equally important for the welfare of the citizens as it is involved in the lives of the citizens in one way or the other. He urged the police officers to keep their private lives clean and develop self-restraint and said that police must be truthful and honest in thought and deed in both personal and official life.


Mr Hussain further said that during conflict situations, police and media often lands in friction; police wants to keep media away, leading to suspicion and the media, unable to wait, relies on others for information. Poor or zero flow of information leads to distortion of news and confuses people and it also causes distortion of the image of the police. He explained that the tendency of the police to keep the media out gives the militants chance to occupy space in the media. He also gave the examples of Scotland Yard and New York State Police as to how they handle the media.


The presentation was followed by an interaction between the media persons and the police officials. The main points highlighted during the interaction were the following:

  • There is a need for the police to formulate a Media Policy.
  • The media should be more accountable.
  • Police personnel and the media persons should try to exchange their roles for a few days (by working closely with each other), so that both can see how the other is working and under what conditions
  • Police should build a mechanism whereby it can send an e-mail or a group sms in order to inform the media when some event occurs.
  • There is a need for the media persons to get proper training.
  • The police should set up their own blog so that they can be in touch with the media and the public.

SESSION III
POLICE-MEDIA RELATIONS IN DISTURBED AREA CONDITIONS

The third session was chaired by Mr. H.K.Deka, IPS (Retd.), former DGP, Assam. The two presenters were Mr. G.P.Singh, DIG (CWR), Assam, and Mr. Subir Bhaumik, Eastern India Correspondent, BBC.

Address by Mr.G.P.SINGH, DIG (CWR), Assam

Mr.G.P.Singh said that there is not much of a difference in police-media relations in disturbed area conditions and under normal conditions—it is just a perception in the minds of the people. He said that the relation between police and the media is like relation between a husband and wife—they live together, eat together, laugh together, and fight together, but carry on nevertheless. He said that it is good that the media writes both good and bad things about the police.

Mr Singh said that there are positive aspects of having good relations with the media. One is that police is able to get information and secondly, if a police officer reads the vernacular dailies regularly, there is no need for him to get briefed by his sub-ordinates about certain cases. He, however, said that the media should not resort to misreporting as it sometimes causes problem. He referred to the Oct. 30, 2008 blasts in Assam where misreporting had led to communal tension in certain areas. He also said that the media should also not try to support the bandh calls given by the militant outfits. It should not publish news like ‘bandh has been successful’, ‘there was full support to the bandh’, etc.

He also pointed out certain aspects on which police needs to improve. One is that the police personnel should be trained on how to deal with the media and secondly, police needs to have a clear media policy. He also stressed on ‘Responsible Reporting’ from the media.

Address by Mr. SUBIR BHAUMIK, BBC, Eastern India.

Mr. Bhaumik, in his address listed the various security laws or acts prevailing in the areas declared as disturbed area. He said that the Indian state has a plethora of acts that can prevent journalists from carrying out normal duties in disturbed areas. He said that such acts create an uneven playing field for the journalists. The Indian Telegraphs Act, for instance, can be used to snoop on communications by a journalist in a disturbed area. These acts infringe on the personal affairs of the public and the common man.  But still, he said, such acts should not stop the media from doing its duty. He further said that certain acts such as the AFSPA lead to sloppy policing.

Mr Bhaumik said that in India we should compare ourselves with the advanced democracies in the world and not with failed states like Pakistan, for instance. He laid stress on the need for training of media personnel. Media persons are given training only on technical issues, there is a need to impart training in editorial issues also.

He said that there is a culture of intimidation in disturbed areas. Media persons also face danger in such conditions. He commented that “death is not drama”. He also said that the tendency of overseeing the media, especially Television, is not good for police.

SESSION IV
POLICE-MEDIA RELATIONS: THE NORTHEAST EXPERIENCE

The fourth session was chaired by Mr. Jaideep Saikia, Security Analyst. Two presentations were made in this session. One by Mr. B.J.Mahanta, IPS, IGP (Law&Order), Assam and the other by Mr. Samudra Gupta Kashyap of The Indian Express.

Address by Mr. B.J.MAHANTA, IPS, IGP (Law&Order) Assam

Mr Mahanta in his presentation talked of a survey conducted among various media houses around the world about the amount of positive news published about the police, Assam police scores a meager 7.62 in print media as compared to 79.30 by the Scotland Yard; while in case of electronic media Scotland Yard scores 82.7 while the Assam Police’s score is almost negligible.

He said that BPR&D (Bureau of Police Research and Development) statistics show that the personnel of the Assam Police gets the lowest salary and poor housing facility among police personnel in the country. He also mentioned that the stress factor that is faced by the police in this region is terrible. Also police is not always able to give out news because it cannot say anything without material evidence. He said that the media mainly attacks the police on two grounds— corruption and excessive use of force.

Mr Mahanta appealed to the media that it should avoid the use of unreliable sources and should not obtain information from unethical sources. He also said that media should play an important role in fighting corruption, both in the public sphere and also within the police force. He also mentioned about the brash attitude of a section of young journalists. He urged the media to come forward and actively associate with the police.

He stressed on the need for building a code of honour between the police and the media.

Address by Mr. SAMUDRA GUPTA KASHYAP, Indian Express

Mr. Kashyap talked about the perceptions that the media and the police have about each other. He said that a policeman or woman usually seem to think that he or she is wiser than the average media person and a media person might think that he or she is wiser than an average police personnel. Police have a perception that the media is closer to the terrorist and the media thinks that there is a nexus between the police and the terrorists.

He also talked about the perception of the police that the media is full of people who are less qualified with not enough higher education or comprising people who have joined the profession because they didn’t find any other job. He said that these types of perceptions hurt the relation between the police and the media. Therefore, there is a need for redefining each other’s image, so that both can work together.

OPEN DISCUSSION

The two presentations were followed by discussion involving questions from the floor and responses from the presenters. The main points highlighted during the discussions were the following:

  • There is a need to clarify the perceptions that the media and the police have about each other.
  • Police should increase the use off cyber-based services, such as server-based sms system.
  • Police should update its website quite regularly and any event happening should be uploaded immediately.
  • There is a need for a uniformed officer as Public Relations Officer in police ste ups who can be approached by the media when they require any information.
  • ‘Telephone Journalism” should not be encouraged as it hampers the relation between the police and the media.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INTERFACE

The interface on Police-Media Relations brought forward a lot of points. These are highlighted as follows:

There is a need for the police and the media to understand each other better in order to increase the synergy between them.

  • The relation between the public and police has to be improved so as to improve the relation between the police and the media.
  • There is a need to create a situation where all agencies including the media could work in a cohesive manner to ensure overall development of the country.
  • There is a need for the police to formulate a clear media policy.
  • Media persons should be given proper training, not only on the technical issues but also on the editorial issues.
  • The media should be more accountable.
  • Police should increase the use of cyber-based services.
  • Police should be trained as to how to deal with the media.
  • Media should play an important role in fighting corruption within the police as well as in the public sphere.
  • Transparency and performance was the key to image building for the police force which, however, should not have a relation of confrontation with media.