The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) issued orders on Thursday imposing fines of Rs 1 lakh on News18 Kannada and Rs 50,000 on Asianet-owned Suvarna News while censuring English news channel Times Now for their reportage on the Tablighi Jamaat incident of March 2020.
The channels have been asked to remove to the respective broadcast videos from all platforms immediately.
While the NBSA directed News18 Kannada to air an apology, presented both in text and in voice-over, on June 23 prior to the 9 pm news, it directed Suvarna News to pay the fine amount within seven days of the receipt of the order for violating the ‘Fundamental Principles of Impartiality, Objectivity and Neutrality in Reporting’ as well as ‘Guideline No.9 relating to Racial and Religious Harmony’.
The NBSA held the broadcasters in violation of the Code of Ethics and the Fundamental Principles of Self Regulation as their programmes “stereotyped and targeted a community” and had the “tendency to incite communal feelings, disharmony, discord” that could “lead to hate and outrage against the entire community.” The body further added that they should train their anchors to ensure compliance with the Code of Ethics and Guidelines of the NBSA.
Tablighi Jamaat incident
When the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit India in March 2020, a religious congregation was held from March 13 to 15 at Nizamuddin, Delhi organised by Tablighi Jamaat, which was attended by several scholars from across the country as well as the world.
When Covid-19 cases had just started claiming lives in India in March, reports said that over 600 cases were recorded in two days due to 9,000 people attending the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in the Nizamuddin area in New Delhi. India had recorded 2,301 cases in a day, and several Central government ministers and the media had blamed it on a specific community.
Case against channels on their ‘hateful’ reportage
The organisation Campaign Against Hate Speech (CAHS) moved the NBSA in 2020 against these channels for their hateful coverage during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic targeting members of the Tablighi Jamaat as well as the entire Muslim community.
In April 2020, the CAHS had filed a complaint before the District Level Monitoring Committee and Centre’s Fact Check Unit, later forwarded to the NBSA, regarding two shows aired on April 1, 2020 titled “Do you know how is Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz which has spread coronavirus to the nation” and “How many have gone to Delhi’s Jamaat congregation from Karnataka” on News18 Kannada.
The complaint filed against Suvarna News was against seven shows aired between March 31 and April 4, 2020 on the channel where Tablighi Jamaat were referred to as “these devils” and the complaint filed against Times Now was for airing a programme titled “Is Tablighi Jamaat wilfully sabotaging India” on April 2, 2020.
The NBSA held that the titles of the programmes had an “insidious effect which would incite communal violence which went beyond facts and certainly crossed the limits of good taste and decency in reporting” and noted that the news report was “highly objectionable”.
The tone, tenor and language used by the anchors, NBSA further added, were “unacceptable, crass, prejudiced, derogatory, disrespectful, out of context, inflammatory, and crossed all boundaries of good taste and sensibility without any concern for the feelings of a religious group. It was aimed at promoting and inciting hatred between communities.”
Rejecting Times Now’s defence claiming the right to free speech and the role of the media, the NBSA stated that this “came with reasonable restrictions”.
Though NBSA accepted Times Now’s response to the complaint that the “choice of a news debate is an editorial discretion,” it pointed out “the anchor/broadcaster should exercise proper discretion in selecting panellists for a particular programme.”