News 18 debate programme violative of the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards and principles under the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage; News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority imposes fine of Rs. 50,000/- on the broadcaster


News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority: In a complaint regarding a debate programme aired on News18 India on 6.4.2022, wherein the anchor Aman Chopra referred to the Muslim students as “Hijabi Gang”, “Hijabwali Gazwa Gang” and made a false allegation that they had resorted to rioting, A.K Sikri (Chairperson) held that the impugned programme was violative of the principles relating to impartiality, neutrality, fairness and good taste & decency under the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage, apart from the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards.

The complainant stated that the channel has claimed that Al Qaeda chief Zawahiri and terrorist organisations were behind the entire Hijab row and that in India, there are many “Hijabi” representatives of Zawahiri, and it’s “the Zawahiri gang”. Further, he added that Zawahiri was the face, and the students were his mask. It was further claimed that Zawahiri has remarked that in India, Muslim people were facing atrocities and urged the international Muslim community to support the Indian Muslim women, who were fighting for their right to wear a hijab.

The complainant stated that during the news programme, the anchor harangued the Muslim panelist, Maulana Ali, by trying to make him say that what Zawahiri was saying is right, and repeated multiple times during the broadcast that Zawahiri and Indian Muslims follow the same book and same ideology.

Furthermore, during the impugned programme, the following tickers were aired “#AlQaedaGangExposed”, “Hijab ka fata poster, nikla Al Qaeda”, “Al Zawahiri found behind the hijab” and “Al Qaeda has planned the hijab controversy”.

Thus, it was alleged that by airing the impugned programme, the broadcaster had violated the specific guidelines covering Reportage (“Specific Guidelines”), particularly, the Fundamental Standards, which require that:

  • All news reporting must be done in the public interest.

  • Content of the matter of broadcast should not be shown out of context.

  • Broadcasters should exercise care and objectivity in featuring activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group in their content to prevent any negative impact thereof” and the principles pertaining to Accuracy, Impartiality, Neutrality & Fairness, Good Taste & Decency and Racial & Religious Harmony under the Specific Guidelines.

The Authority noted that the impugned programme was a debate conducted by the broadcaster on the Hijab controversy that emerged in Karnataka following a ban imposed by the Government on wearing Hijab in educational institutions.

The broadcaster submitted that in view of the observations made by the Karnataka High Court and the statement issued by Zawahiri, leader of Al Qaeda, it had in the impugned programme, raised the question as to whether the issue of Hijab was being incited by some hidden international forces.

The Authority has noted that it was permissible for the broadcaster to have the debate on students wearing Hijab in educational institutions or not, after the issue was decided by the Karnataka High Court, and it was also open to the broadcaster to address the issue as to whether some hidden international forces were inciting the people in this country and blowing the issue out of proportion.

The Authority further clarified that it is not commenting upon the topic chosen by the broadcaster on which the debate was conducted, as it comes within the freedom of expression of the broadcaster. However, it is concerned with the fact as to whether the broadcaster/anchor, while running such a programme, adhered to the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards (‘Code of Ethics’) and conducted the debate within the confines of the said Code.

The Authority did not find any merit in the broadcaster’s submission that the terms “Hijabi Gang”, “Hijabwali Gazwa Gang” and “the Zawahiri gang” were used only in respect of the invisible powers which were allegedly behind the controversy and not in respect of the students who were protesting in support of Hijab. Further, it was observed that while having a debate as to whether wearing Hijab be allowed in the schools or not, there was no occasion to blow up the debate by making it a communal issue.

The Authority strongly deprecated the tendency of the broadcaster to associate those panelists who were in favour of wearing Hijab by the students with Zawahiri and labelling them as “Zawahiri gang member” etc. It also did not find any justification in linking those panelists with Al Qaeda, by airing tickers stating “#AlQaedaGangExposed”, “Hijab ka fata poster etc.

Thus, the Authority observed that the anchor had not only acted in flagrant disrespect of the Code of Ethics and the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage but had also failed to abide by the decision in Nilesh Navalakha v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 56, which enjoins an anchor to apply his/her mind and avoid the programme from drifting beyond the permissible limits, including by muting the speaker who flies off the tangent.

The Authority has noted that even the Supreme Court has on numerous occasions stressed the role of the anchor in a news programme and stated that the anchor must maintain a balance between the panelists. However, it was observed that in the instant case, not only had the anchor failed to stop the other panelists from crossing the boundary but had given them a platform to express extreme views which could adversely affect the communal harmony in the country. Therefore, the Authority advised the broadcaster to guide and train its anchor on how to conduct debates on such sensitive issues and imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000/- on the broadcaster and admonished the broadcaster for conducting such a debate, which was not in accordance with the Code of Ethics. It further directed the broadcaster to ensure the presence of the anchor Aman Chopra before the Authority and to remove the video of the programme from its website and all platforms.

[Indrajeet Ghorpade v. News 18 India, Order No. 151(2022), decided on 21-10-2022]

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