CJP’s NBDSA Complaints 2023: A look at the repeated violation of ethics and guidelines by Indian television channels Keeping a hawk’s eye on the most egregious hate violations on television through 2023, CJP filed eight complaints with the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority, seven of which were against Times Now Navbharat; eight favourable orders came from the NBDSA

22, Dec 2023 | CJP Team

The concept of impartiality, neutrality and balance forms the cornerstone of journalism. Media personnel, especially those in television and video, have the power to reach and influence the minds of their audience, making a compelling argument for adherence to unbiased, sane and calm exploration of issues and choice of views, especially on contentious and important issues. Journalists play an active role in constructing a dominant narrative and hence bear a high responsibility to ensure that both inclusivism and rationality guides their approach.

Over the past decade especially, a disturbing trend has emerged with journalists and certain media channels portraying clear partisan coverage of issues, often resulting in persistent targeting of sections of Indians with slur and stigma. India’s religious minorities find themselves central to this emerging pattern. That this also enjoys powerful political sanction –given the predilections of the ruling dispensation – is not an insignificant aspect of this development. Not only are new organisations, founded to provide the public with an impartial and truthful picture of the world, faltering in their endeavours, but individual journalists and anchors have become offenders. 

CJP is dedicated to finding and bringing to light instances of Hate Speech, so that the bigots propagating these venomous ideas can be unmasked and brought to justice. To learn more about our campaign against hate speech, please become a member. To support our initiatives, please donate now!

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), set up in the year 2008, is a private association of various news broadcasters in India. The association was set up to deal with ethical, operational, regulatory, technical and legal issues affecting news and current-affairs channels. The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) is an independent body set up by the News Broadcasters Association. Its task is to consider and adjudicate upon complaints about broadcasts. Any complaint against the broadcasting of any news channel can be addressed to NBDSA.  To tackle the increasing instances of media personnel indulging in biased reporting and demonstrate a commitment towards responsible broadcasting, certain guidelines have been drawn up by the NBDSA.

A News Channel is required to maintain the following standards while reporting as per the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards:

  • Ensure impartiality and objectivity in reporting
  • Ensure neutrality
  • Ensure that when reporting on crime, that crime and violence are not glorified
  • Ensure utmost discretion while reporting on violence and crime against women and children
  • Abhor sex and nudity
  • Ensure privacy
  • Ensure that national security is not endangered
  • Refraining from advocating or encouraging superstition and occultism
  • Ensure responsible sting operations

Upon the violation of any of the standards mentioned above, complaints can be filed by an aggrieved person/organisation to the NBDSA against a member or associate member of NBA. In the year 2023 alone, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) filed a total of eight complaints to the NBDSA. Out of these eight complaints, seven were against the shows telecast by Times Now Navbharat while one was against Aaj Tak. CJP also received multiple positive orders from the NBDSA in the current year, many of which were on previously filed complaints. 

Here’s a look back at the success stories and the actual complaints that led to these breakthroughs. For several others, hearings are still pending.

CJP Victories- favourable orders from the NBDSA

  • News18 fined 50,000 by NBDSA for airing communally divisive debate show

Order: On February 27, 2023, NBDSA imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000 on News18 India for airing a communally divisive show in January 2022, over a year before. In its order, the statutory authority observed that the thrust of the programme had religious undertones. The authority had found the premise of the debate that 20% people were ganging up against Hindus constituting 80% of the state’s population to be inappropriate. The order stated that the anchor, Aman Chopra, had crossed threshold of impartiality by making divisive statements. NBDSA had further directed the broadcaster to publicise the order on the ticker once every hour for 24 hours between 8 am on March 6 to 8 am on March 7. The Authority had also sought a recording of the ticker aired on the channel. 

Complaint: On January 22, 2022, CJP had approached the NBDSA against the said debate show. In its complaint, it had been highlighted that the host had pitched Hindu voters against Muslim voters by using the term “80 vs. 20” and flagging off the show with a communally polarising question: Hinduon ke khilaf Uttar Pradesh me Mahagathbandhan tayyar ho raha hai, aur jab 80 vs. 20 ki baat ki thi Yogi Adityanath ne toh wo sahi thi? (A grand alliance is being formed in Uttar Pradesh against Hindus, and was Yogi Adityanath right when he said it is now 80 vs. 20?).  The complaint had also highlighted the anti-Muslim statements brazenly made by the anchor. CJP had further pointed that the anchor of a show on a news channel that is supposed to have a neutral and unbiased theme, and yet Chopra did not even attempt to have any non-communal theme on the show.

  • Fine of Rs. 25,000 slammed on News18 for their communal debate show

Order: On February 27, 2023, the NBDSA fined News18 with Rs. 25,000 for violating the authority’s guidelines for fair and temperate reporting during the show “Desh Nahin Jhukne Denge Aman Chopra,” four months before in October 2022. In the show, the debate panel had contentiously discussed the issue of Gujarat police’s action against Muslims who were celebrating Garba. The statutory authority had also taken serious objection to the language used by the anchor in the programme and the repetitive nature of the violations of the NBDSA.  Importantly, the NBDSA had also held that manner in which the debate was conducted was condemnable and the statements made by the anchor had the tendency to disturb the communal harmony in the country. 

Complaint: On October 22, 2022, CJP had filed its complaint with the NBDSA. The members of the panel brought into question not just the various principles of Islam as a religion but also mocked speakers belonging to the Muslim community by asking them to hail Hindus gods on national television.

  • Distasteful tickers targeting Teesta Setalvad ordered to be removed 

Order: On March 17, 2023, the NBDSA directed the Times Now to edit the video of the three debate shows held on the arrest of Teesta Setalvad and remove the tickers: “Modi Baiter Arrested” “Lutyens ‘Fix Modi’ Plot Nailed?” within 7 days. The NBDSA, in its order, stated that while parts of the shows discussed the Supreme Court judgement in Zakia Ahsan Jafri vs State of Gujarat and Anr 2022 SCC Online SC773, the tickers used during the show, as mentioned above were “neither necessary nor contextual and not in good taste as well”. The NBDSA emphasised that it “does not appreciate the manner in which some of the tickers were aired during the impugned programmes. The Authority also advised the channel to not telecast such tickers in future.

Complaint: On June 25, 27 and 28 of the year 2022, pursuant to the arrest of Teesta Setalvad, Times Now aired three shows with the intention to portray Setalvad as unworthy of trust and compassion. The channel had a field day around her arrest and the charges levied on her by casting aspersions on her humanitarian work and vilifying her by casting aspersions on her credibility as a Human Rights Defender.

The tickers that ran through the show included:

“Modi Baiter Arrested”

“Lutyens ‘Fix Modi’ Plot Nailed?”

“SC nail ‘Fix Modi’ Plot”

“Teesta-UPA 1.4 Crore irregular Handshake”

“Padma, Post and Paisa”

“Modi Fixer was Favoured”

“Reward for ‘Ruin Modi’ Plot?”

On July 1, 2022, a complaint against the vilifying tenor of the three debate shows was raised with the statutory authority, the complaint had stated that the hosts of the various shows, namely – Navika Kumar, Rahul Shivshankar, and Poonam Budre- had appeared biased in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons throughout the show. It was also alleged that the panellists speaking in favour of Setalvad were constantly interrupted by the hosts while those speaking against her were granted more time.  

  • NBDSA directs removal on Times Now Navbharat’s show on ‘Madrassa Jihad’

Order: On June 27, the NBDSA issued an order asking the Times Now Navbharat to remove the video of its inflammatory and violence inducing content broadcasted in November, 2022 that CJP had complained against. The authority also issued a warning to the broadcaster to remain careful in the future. In the order it was held that the broadcaster violated the “Specific guidelines covering Reportage related to Racial and Religious Harmony” which states that 9.1 Racial and religious stereotyping should be avoided while reporting. It further observed that the findings of the Uttar Pradesh survey on illegalities in the running of some madrassas was given a misleading tilt, which violated the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards.

Complaint: On December 5, 2022 a complaint was sent by CJP to the NBDSA against a debate segment of the Times Now Navbharat which had falsely declared that something called “madrassa Jihad” was taking place in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. The complainant had stated that by using terms like “Madrassa Jihad” and “the ‘M’ Factor” the channel has resorted to cheap tactics to spread communal tension and hatred which is unbecoming of a news channel. The complaint had also pointed out that the channel used the “jihad” trope to further its communal narrative. 

  • Aaj Tak show spreading propaganda on Muslim youth’s participation in Garba   ordered to be removed

Order: On November 3, an order of the NBDSA raised strong objections to the generalisation made in the course of the show wherein the intentions of all the Muslims entering Garba pandals were “suspect” and “deemed to be malafide”. The show had been telecast during the Navratri festival in October 2022. The anchor had, through aggressive communal participants, observed that “all (such Muslims) who tried to participate in the events were anti-nationals and did not believe in the festivals.” The NBDSA observed that such baseless statements were made by the broadcasters without any study or analysis. It was further held that by generalising the incidents, the broadcaster had given a communal tilt which was violative of the guidelines laid down by the Commission. The NBDSA also noted that by airing the impugned broadcast, there was a gross violation of the guidelines that prevented communal colour to be given to news reporting related to crimes, riots, rumours, etc. For the violations committed, the NBDSA directed the broadcaster to remove the video of the impugned show from their channel and/or YouTube along with all the hyperlinks, and confirm the same to the NBDSA in writing within seven days of the order.

Complaint: On October 20, 2022, CJP had moved the NBDSA against Aaj Tak’s ‘Black and White Show’ for containing themes of communal divide throughout its narrative. Through the complaint, CJP had objected to the tone, tenor and choice of words spoken as well as displayed on the screen during the show. As per the complaint, certain statements made by Sudhir Chaudhary were so denigrating that it made his communal narrative clearly visible and obvious, threatening to mar, even destroy the secular fabric of the country.  It was highlighted that the brazen remarks that have been made by Sudhir Chaudhary directly fell with offensive and communal lines, which goes against the ethics of journalism and principles of self- regulation, including the code laid down by the NBDSA. 

  • NBDSA orders Aaj Tak to note use terms like ‘Mazhaar Jihaad’ while reporting on illegal encroachment

Order: On November 3, in a favourable order, the NBDSA observed that the anchor should have avoided using the term ‘Mazhaar Jihad’ while reporting on the issue of illegal encroachment as it gave a totally different dimension to an otherwise valid issue raised by the broadcaster. In view of this, the NBDSA advised the broadcaster to not use the impugned term and be careful about the same in the future. The show had been aired earlier in the year in April.

Complaint: On April 20, 2023, a complaint was filed by CJP with the NBDSA over a show aired on Aaj Tak on April 6 hosted by Sudhir Chaudhary. On his show ‘Black and white’ Chaudhary spoke on the issue of illegal mazaars being found on government land in Uttarakhand, especially forest land for which the producers of the show also carried out a ‘ground report’. Based on the said ‘report’, Sudhir had claimed that when these mazaars were demolished with bulldozers and inspected, it was found that the graves did not have any human remains in them. However, no official source has been cited in the same. Through its complaint, CJP pointed out that the host and the channel missed the bus on getting their facts right while stigmatizing the Muslim community by labelling them and referring to them in a denigrating manner.it was also highlighted tin the complaint that the claims made by Sudhir have been debunked by an official report by the forest department which stated that there are more illegal temples in forest areas than illegal mazaars which takes away completely the basis on which the show was aired.

  • NBDSA orders removal of two Times Now Navbharat shows 

Order: On November 3, CJP received a favourable order from the NBDSA, wherein the statutory authority had held the Times Now Navbharat channel to be in violation of the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and the Specific Guidelines covering Reportage on Racial and Religious Harmony. The NBDSA had noted that during its show, the broadcaster had given a communal colour to the whole issue of eviction on the orders of the Uttarakhand High Court. The NBDSA held that by portraying the protestors to be a part of a ‘Jihadi Gang’ and terming illegal encroachments as ‘Zameen Jihad’, the broadcaster had “re-iterated the prejudices or stereotypes that are historically used to target, attack and ridicule communities based on their religion.” Furthermore, the NBDSA observed that the word “Jihadi” was used out of context and the tickers in the background also reinforced the narrative of the broadcaster. For the violations committed, the NBDSA admonished the broadcaster to not repeat the same in the future and directed them to remove the video of the impugned show from their channel. 

Complaint: On January 30, 2023, a complaint had been filed by CJP with the NBDSA against the Times Now Navbharat’s communally divisive show titled “देवभूमि Uttarakhand मेंजमीन जिहादपर बुलडोजर एक्शन की बारी!” that aired on January 2, 2023. The show was based on the decision given by the Uttarakhand High Court, wherein the court had allowed the use of force to evict 4,000 families living on what the Railways had claimed to be their land. Through the complaint, CJP had highlighted the polarising remarks that anchor had made with the aim of pushing the far-right propaganda of villainising the Muslim community. The complaint had raised objected to the derogatory and instigating terms used by the anchor, such as “Zameen Jihad”, “Mazhar Jihad”, “Jihaadi Gang” and bulldozer action of the Dhami government”, to spread stigma and hatred against the Muslim community.

  • NBDSA directs removal of Times Now Navbharat’s contentious debate show on Ram Mandir

The order: Through its order, the NBDSA held that the debate conducted by the channel on its show was not in good taste and did not follow the Specific Guidelines for Anchors conducting Programmes including Debates. While noting that the commission cannot impinge upon the right of the broadcaster to exercise their freedom of speech, it also held that the broadcaster was required to their freedom in accordance with the guidelines, standards, code and advisories of the NBDSA. In view of this, the NBDSA issued a warning to the broadcaster against telecasting such debates as well as be careful in selecting panellists for debates. The NBDSA also advised the broadcaster to strictly adhere to the guidelines set by the Commission. In furtherance to this, the statutory authority also directed the broadcaster to remove the video of the impugned show from their channel and/or YouTube.

Complaint: On January 24, 2023, CJP had escalated a complaint to the NBDSA against Times Now Navbharat over their debate show aired on December 30, 2022. The complaint filed by CJP stated that the channel brazenly picked up a communal statement and made it a point of debate, and further exacerbated the impact of a divisive statement by calling in speakers with radicalized views and allowing them to hurl abuses at each other and also physically assault each other. The complaint further alleged that the intention of the show from the word go was to play with heightened communal sentiments, spread anti-Muslim sentiments and bash the entire Muslim community based on statements made by one Muslim individuals. Furthermore, the complaint pointed to the problematic tickers that were used by the host, such as “Hindustan me ‘gazwa-e-hind’ ka plan? (Gazwa-i-hind being planned in India?)” And “Ram mandir todne ko uksayenge? (Will he incite them to destroy ram mandir?)”.

Complaints pending with the NBDSA:

The procedure to be followed while filing a complaint with the NBDSA is strict and time bound. Prior to filing a complaint with the NBDSA, the complainant is required to make a formal complaint to the concerned broadcaster within seven days from the broadcast of the impugned show. 

If, within seven days there is no response from the concerned broadcaster, the complainant, may then escalate the complaint to the NBDSA within a further 14 days. If, on the other hand, the broadcaster responds to the complaint in the stipulated time and the complainant is not satisfied with the reply, the complaint can then be made to NBDSA within 14 days from the date of receipt of the reply.

After the complaint is sent, NBDSA considers the complaint and takes a decision on whether both the parties need to be called for a hearing. If the NBDSA decides to actually have a hearing, before the date, both the complainant and the respondent are supposed to submit written submissions by the date stipulated by the Authority. 

Out of the eight complaints sent by CJP to the NBDSA, three were decided by the Authority within 2023 itself. Five complaints still remain pending with the Commission. Out of the five complaint, written submission for four will be filed by end of December, post which hearing will be held. 

  • Complaint against debate show on alleged illegal Madrassas in Uttar Pradesh 

On June 29, a complaint was sent by CJP to the NBDSA against Times Now Navbharat’s debate show titled “Rashtravad : मदरसों पर नकेलनहीं चलेगा विदेशी फंडिंग का खेल ?” for making unfounded claims. The show was based on a survey carried out by the UP government on Madrassas in the state and last year’s data which allegedly found that 8,841 madrassas were illegal and that the Government shall proceed against 4,000 madrassas in the state. During the show, the host questioned why Muslims need to study in Madrassas in the first place. He questioned the mushrooming of madrassas in the Indo-Nepal border area and doubted their legality. Throughout the debate, the channel was trying to push this narrative of the madrassa or all madrassas being a/the centre of illegalities. The presentation of the debate, by repeatedly showing the students reading Namaaz at a madrassa. The complaint pointed out that the intention of the show was clearly to show that madrassas receive dubious foreign funding and they are set up along the border and the children are brainwashed and are trained to becoming terrorists. The NBDSA has taken cognizance of the complaint sent and asked for written submissions to be submitted. The date of hearing has not yet been provided.

  • Complaint against ‘operation Mazhar’ show for its problematic content

On June 29, CJP complained against a Times Now Navbharat’s show titled “धामी सरकार का ‘ऑपरेशन मजार’, ‘गजवा िंद’ की सा जश के कससे जुडे तार?”. Through the show, the reporter tries to formulate a link between the dargahs/mazaars and the increase in Muslim population across Uttarakhand and specifically, “Dev Bhoomi Haridwar”, by using objectionable terms like “mazaar jihad” and “land jihad”. The show also purported to be based upon a government report, and yet the same was not fact based, resorting to contentious name calling targeting a specific and marginalized section of the population. The NBDSA has taken cognizance of the complaint sent and asked for written submissions to be submitted. The date of hearing has not yet been provided.

  • Complaint against debate show having themes of a divisive discourse

The show of the Times Now Navbharat was based on a statement made by Hasan Madni whereby he said that whoever talks about a Hindu nation is a traitor. On June 29, a complaint against the show was sent by CJP to NBDSA emphasising that the said show had themes of a divisive discourse that furthers a communal (intra-community) divide throughout its narrative and did not try to mask this motive that mitigates against the basic principles of fair and neutral journalism. The complaint contended that the communal and partisan nature of the show was evident in the choice and content spouted by not just the participants in the “debate” but also unfortunately displayed by the host of the show, actively participating in the communal diatribe, justifying the establishment of a religious (Hindu) nation and even going to the extent of saying that India has always been a Hindu nation. The NBDSA has taken cognizance of the complaint sent and asked for written submissions to be submitted. The date of hearing has not yet been provided.

  • Complaint against debate show on survey of Gyanvapi Mosque:

On August 16, CJP filed a complaint with the NBDSA against the Times Now Navbharat’s contentious and communally divisive debate show titled “Rashtravad | Gyanvapi Survey के बाद ‘ज्ञानवापी आंदोलन’ होगा?” that aired on July 24, 2023. The show was based on the Supreme Court order providing interim protection against the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Survey being conducted at Gyanvapi Mosque. Even as the host Rakesh Pandey had picked up a matter that was sub-judice, he had intentionally presented only one-sided facts of the case. In the complaint, it was purported that the debate show appeared more like a show promoting the host’s version of the Hindu cause or a religious/sectarian debate rather than a news room debate. Furthermore, the complaint provided that the debate show had themes that furthered a divisive discourse that heightened a communal divide throughout its narrative and did not try to mask this motive. Such journalism or electronic media coverage mitigates against the basic principles of fair and neutral journalism. The NBDSA has taken cognizance of the complaint sent and asked for written submissions to be submitted. The date of hearing has not yet been provided.

  • Complaint against two debate shows covering Israel-Hamas conflict:

On November 10, a complaint was sent to the NBDSA against two debate segments that aired on Times Now Navbharat on October 16. The title of these shows is “Modi के खिलाफ… क्यों खडे ‘हमास’ के साथ? | Israel-Hamas Conflict | Owaisi | ST Hasan” and “Rashtravad:  हिंदुस्तान में ‘Hamas Think tank’ कौन बना रहा है? | Israel-Palestine Crisis | Owaisi”. CJP had sent the complaint to the channel first on October 23, to which they had not replied within the stipulated times. In this combined complaint, it was mentioned the two shows covered a similar theme of conflict between a militant group Hamas and Israel and a communal colour was being given to it. As per the complaint, the two debate shows attempted to influence its audience with a skewed twist to the said conflict and painted the ones supporting the Palestinian cause of life, liberty and freedom from occupation as a “Muslim issue”. The two shows built a one-sided narrative that Muslims, leaders of the opposition and students of the left organisation protesting in support of Palestine were supporting the illegal activities of Hamas as well. IT was further highlighted by the complainant that both the anchors of the debates, namely Rakesh Pandey and Naina Yadav, framed the narrative in such a partisan manner that Indian Muslims were shown as sympathisers of the militant group of Hamas due to their “religious connection”.

A battle for unbiased reporting- fighting for fairness and objectivity

Social harmony and democracy is threatened when individual prejudices, misinformation, and unfairness permeates how “information” is portrayed in electronic media. Manipulating the recounting of incidents or views that are not reflective of all facts, as well as spreading false information and stereotypes vis a vis disparate populations, undermines the confidence that the public places in the media. The media is tasked with an onerous responsibility, in furthering the voice and representations (through issues and news) of all sections of the population. A disturbing and detrimental development over close to a decade reveals a media that become more communalized, with the exception of a small number of papers and journals and a few television channels. 

As can be deduced from the details of the complaints provided above as well as the favourable orders received by CJP, a common pattern of media agencies indulging in partisan and communally biased reporting can be observed. In most of the orders received on the complaints, the Authority has found the broadcasters to be violating the standard set by them and spreading stigma and hatred against the Muslim community. A common theme of having religious undertones, usage of derogatory and anti-Muslim slur, making unsubstantiated and unfounded statements and pitting of Hindus against Muslims could be found in each of the programme complained against. 

Committed to a HateWatch and HateHatao programme nationwide, CJP through meticulous monitoring ensures that the public gaze understands these developments. Our Nafrat ka Naqsha, Hate Busters are key to this singular effort. Not content with mere documentation however, CJP’s team meticulously reports and complains to all relevant authorities be it the NBDSA or even district and state police authorities when any attempts at targeted speech and slur and stigma seek to stigmatise and marginalise populations. One of four pillars of CJP’s mission is ensuring the freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of press and fair reporting, and upholding of principles of accuracy, fairness, neutrality, privacy and so on. The basic desire for democratic liberties, including access to honest and fact-based journalism, is key to ensure equality for all and discrimination against none.


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