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"Media Trial Not Permissible In Law": NBDSA Orders News Channels To Remove 'Sensationalist' Videos About Umar Khalid

Sparsh Upadhyay
16 Jun 2022 10:58 AM GMT
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The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) on Tuesday directed Zee News, Zee Hindustan, India TV, Aaj Tak, and News18 to take down certain shows/videos broadcast by them in 2020 pertaining to former JNU student and UAPA accused Umar Khalid which misreported and misrepresented facts about him.

The NBDSA, which is a self-regulatory body of private TV channels headed by Supreme Court judge A. K. Sikri, in its order said that the news channels above-mentioned had used sensationalist taglines during their broadcast pertaining to Khalid hinting that he had been held guilty in connection with the Delhi riots case.

Essentially, the authority was dealing with a complaint made by advocate Indrajeet Ghorpade and others alleging that these news channels had held a media trial against Umar Khalid in the Delhi riots case.

The common thread in the complaints filed against the four channels, i.e., Zee News, Zee Hindustan, India TV and Aaj Tak was the alleged media trial conducted by the channels against Umar Khalid in the Delhi riots investigation

Having gone through the allegations, replies from the news channels and the taglines, and content of the show, the NBDSA, in its order observed thus:

"...the media has the freedom to report on any subject matter concerning public interest. It is a fact that riots took place in Delhi. It is also a fact that Umar Khalid was arrested by the Police, and the Police have filed a charge sheet alleging that Umar Khalid was the mastermind behind these riots. It can also be assumed that these riots would amount to anti-national activities..."

Further, taking into account the content of the shows, the Authority observed that airing news on the channel about riots and about the alleged involvement of Umar Khalid as per police report was within the rights of the news channels, however, the Authority took exception to the act of the news channels wherein the treated the police report as gospel truth and on that basis, proceed to discuss the program as if the charge of inciting violence leading to riots stands proved against Umar Khalid.

The Authority further said that it would have been permissible for the news to hold panel discussions confining within the realm of allegations against Umar Khalid as per Police viz. the police charge sheet has indicted Umar Khalid with categorical clarification that these are only charges which are yet to be proved before the court of law.

However, the Authority added that the is that the claims made by the channels that Umar Khalid had been proven guilty or there is sufficient evidence against him to prove him guilty, and this amounted to media trial which is not permissible in law.

In view of the aforesaid, NBDSA took serious objection to the sensationalist taglines and tickers aired during the broadcasts such as "Umar Khalid is the Mastermind of Delhi nots", "Umar Khalid plotted the Delhi riots", "He burnt Delhi, be is not a comrade, be is a noter", "Umar Kablid and Sharjeel Imam biggest Masterminds", "Sharyeol-Umar incited violence", "In the name of Muslims, Umar Sharjeel plan rior", "Command of the protest (antiCAA)...plan for a riot; "Umar Khalid is a terrorist?" which gave an impression that the accused had already been declared guilty.

In view of the same, the Authority held that the broadcasts violated the principles of Impartiality, Objectivity and Neutrality enshrined under the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards and Guidelines issued by the Authority.

Regarding the taglines used by the news channels, the Court observed thus:

"No doubt, some of the taglines contained question marks. If all taglines were with question marks along with specific contents that these were charges only and yet to be proved, the matter would have been different. Insofar as the programmes in question are concerned, when viewed in entirety, the broadcasters cannot deny the fact that these taglines create a certain perception amongst the public. Therefore, it is important that taglines and/or hashtags be used carefully especially in controversial matters."

In view of the above, the Court advised the broadcasters/channels to exercise restraint and not to broadcast such taglines and/or hashtags that project the accused in a manner as if he/she is guilty NBDSA.

Lastly, the Court directed that the video of the said broadcast, if still available on the website of the channel, or YouTube, or any other links, be removed immediately, and the same should be confirmed to NBDSA in writing within 7 days of receipt of the Order.

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