23, Jan 2020 | CJP Team
In a huge victory for secular forces in the country, the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has reprimanded Aaj Tak for broadcasting communally divisive and inflammatory content during its coverage of the verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid case.
On October 16, 2019, Aaj Tak had aired a debate show where participants were allowed to make hateful statements against the minority community. CJP had written to Aaj Tak complaining about the communally inflammatory content of the show, but in absence of any response from the broadcaster, we were forced to move NBSA.
Now, the NBSA has ruled in our favour and directed Aaj Tak to remove the programme related to the Ayodhya Dispute: “देश के सबसे बड़े फैसले पर सबसे बड़ी बहस अयोध्या से Rohit Sardana के साथ” in its entirety from it’s YouTube channel and report compliance to NBSA within 7 days of receipt of such direction from NBSA.”
The NBSA has further observed, “broadcasters would be responsible for violations for Broadcasting Standards and Guidelines in regard to the content of any programme aired on the channel; that neither any “disclaimers” before any programme nor the fact that offending statements/views expressed by independent anchors, invited guests or other participants, would relieve them from the liability/responsibility for violation of the Standards/Guidelines of NBA/NBSA”.
Responding to NBSA’s decision, CJP secretary, Teesta Setalvad said, “This is part of CJP’s Hate Hatao Campaign. We have always believed that inciteful, hate speech plays an insiduous role in othering minorities and eventually also encouraging society and individual actors to acts of violence against them. Institutions like the NBSA play a crucial role in ensuring this since television channels, driven by “TRP ratings” often forget to draw the constitutional line. CJP will continue to do its bit in monitoring hateful coverage on television and in the print media.”
Brief background of the case:
The show was titled “देश के सबसे बड़े फैसले पर सबसे बड़ी बहस अयोध्या से Rohit Sardana के साथ” and was uploaded on Aaj Tak’s Youtube channel. One of the guests on the show, who was addressed as “Swami Karpatri Ji Maharaj” has expressed some controversial and abhorrent views with respect to the Ayodhya case and declared “18 November se ayodhya me ShriRam Janmabhoomi ka nirman hoga” and “faisla nischittaur se hai, mere paksh me hai” (On November 18, the formation/birth of Ram Janmabhoomi will begin; the Judgement will undoubtedly be in our favour.)
It is noteworthy that Aaj Tak’s show was aired despite a special advisory issued by the NBSA earlier on October 16 itself, where it had explicitly mentioning guidelines to be followed by news channels while telecasting news and holding debates pertaining to the Ayodhya case.
Moreover, the channel also posted this tweet on the evening preceding the final day of hearing of the Ayodhya case. There was a not so carefully hidden agenda of spreading hate and enmity between the two communities.
The content was easily accessible on the internet, prompting CJP to submit a written complain to Aaj Tak about the same on October 17, 2019, requesting them to take down the content. But, in the absence of any response or action from the team of Aaj Tak we filed a complaint with the NBSA. After this Aaj Tak was forced to respond and TV Today said that they promote ideological diversity and that this debate was a representation of the same. It also said that the debate was meant for healthy exchange of opinion and intellectual deliberation and also used freedom of speech to justify the same.
CJP responded to TV Today’s stand saying, “While that is a healthy practice, the debate that is being complained against, was in clear contravention of the Important Advisory issued by the NBSA, dated October 16, 2019 regarding ‘Reporting of Ayodhya matter pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court’ (Advisory) as also NBSA’s Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage (Guidelines). The broadcaster cannot resort to and misuse the freedom of speech and expression bestowed upon by the Constitution of India under Article 19(1)(a) as the same is to be read, at all times, with Article 19(2) which imposes reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. These reasonable restrictions have been embodied in the aforementioned Advisory and Guidelines issued by the NBSA. These Guidelines and Advisory have been issued by the NBSA to keep this very freedom of speech and expression in check so that such a fundamental right is not misused to serve malafide intents of any broadcaster.”
On the subject of the tweet, Aaj Tak had said that the caption “is not something that was coined and invented by the News Channel especially for the purpose of the telecast. Rather the same was taken out of the discussion that took place in the Courtroom during the hearing of Civil appeal in the Ayodhya dispute.”
To this we responded saying, “Even if it is assumed that the caption was a quote picked from a Courtroom discussion, the same being highlighted by the News Channel in its Twitter post, as an advertisement or endorsement for its programme, does not uphold any of the principles mentioned hereinabove. These are fundamental principles which News channels/broadcasters ought to follow as a matter of principle and self-regulation, as members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA).”
We have also pointed out how the caption does not carry any disclaimer saying that this is not a view endorsed by the News Channel neither is the name of the person who made the comment appearing after the caption.
While NBSA took strict note of the debate programme on Youtube, the tweet posted by Aaj Tak could not be inquired into as this was only posted on the channel’s social media platform. Monitoring of hate or inciteful content on social media does not fall under the NBSA’s jurisdiction.