The News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has ruled that a show aired by Times Now on activist Teesta Setalvad's visit to the Shaheen Bagh protest site were 'devoid of objectivity' and violated Fundamental Principles as enumerated in the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and various Guidelines and Advisories issued by NBDSA. Accordingly, Times Now was directed to remove the video of the show from its channel, YouTube and other links immediately and was further ordered to convey the same to NBDSA in writing within 7 days.
A complaint had been lodged with the NBDSA by NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) against Times Now for airing a show on February 19, 2020 titled 'Teesta Setalvad Coaches Shaheen Bagh Protestors' wherein Setalvad had been called a 'Modi Baiter' despite her having made no statement against the Prime Minister at Shaheen Bagh.
In an order dated November 13, 2021, NBDSA was of the view that Times Now had conducted a 37 minute debate on the mere presence of Setalvad at Shaheen Bagh and had selectively used the contents of her statement when she visited the Shaheen Bagh proest site to create a particular narrative which was not the main focus of her message.
"In this context, using bold headlines and attributing her to be 'Modi Baiter' seems out of context and doesn't appear to be an objective assessment of her speech, lacks neutrality and accuracy and also violates Guidelines which require that 'facts should be clearly distinguishable from, and not be mixed up with, opinion, analysis and comment'", the order stated.
NBDSA Chairperson Justice (retired) A.K Sikri further issued a warning to Times Now and advised the broadcaster to avoid such programmes/debates in the future. Though the broadcaster has the right to report on any subject of its choice, it must adhere to the Fundamental Principles as enumerated in the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and various Guidelines and Advisories issued by NBDSA, the order stated.
"In order to maintain objectivity, an anchor can conduct a debate, however, if he/she must reach a conclusion, it has to be only at the end of the programme, based on the discussions held amongst the panelists. The anchor must avoid pushing any agenda during the debate. Further, the person being reported on should either be made part of the debate, or his/her views should be reported", NBDSA cautioned further. It also underscored that anchors should adhere to the norms of objectivity, impartiality, neutrality, fairness and accuracy in order to improve broadcasting standards.
In a complaint dated April 6, 2020 filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), it was alleged that Times Now is running a legitimate smear campaign with the clear intention of maligning the reputation and image of Setalvad. It further stated that Times Now has resorted to inordinate and unwarranted labelling of Setalvad as a 'Modi Baiter' to fuel jingoism and create a negative image of her in the eyes of the public.
The complaint further pointed out that the show did not present any proof to show that the questions that were being read out to the protestors at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi were in fact framed by Setalvad. It was further contended that her mere presence and assistance to the volunteers at Shaheen Bagh had been twisted by the channel to portray that she was orchestrating the mediation process sanctioned by the Supreme Court.
"The channel unapologetically made false allegations such as 'she deputed people to talk to protestors; the incident amounts to 'contempt of court'". The journalist also made utterly baseless claims such as 'Teesta 'tuition' scuttles talks', referring to the mediation proceedings that took place in Shaheen Bagh with Supreme Court appointed mediators", the complaint stated further. It was further underscored that Times Now anchor even stooped low enough to term the Apex Court appointed Mediators as 'Modi Haters'.
Times Now Response
The channel in its response stated that Setalvad being a public figure cannot afford to be so 'thin-skinned'. It was further stated that no derogatory remarks were made in the impugned news reports and that the debate must be seen as a whole.
It was asserted that the complainant cannot be allowed to pick and choose words to claim defamation especially considering the fact that Setalvad is a public figure. Times Now also stated that it cannot be denied that Setalvad has been a part of several protests including the Gujrat riots.
Referring to the usage of the phrase 'Modi Baiter', the channel stated that being a public figure she would always be subject to criticism and that the use of the term 'Modi Baiter' cannot be labelled as defamatory or derogatory.
Times Now further asserted that pursuant to the freedom of speech and expression, the manner of presentation should be left to the broadcaster and the same cannot be dictated upon as it is a matter of editorial freedom.
In a related development, the NBDSA on November 22 ruled that two of Times Now Primetime Debates on Delhi Riots were not objective and impartial and thus violated broadcasting guidelines.