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NBSA Directs 'Times Now' To Air Public Apology For Objectionable Remarks Against Activist Sanjukta Basu [Read Order]

Mehal Jain
25 Oct 2020 6:26 AM GMT
NBSA Directs Times Now To Air Public Apology For Objectionable Remarks Against Activist Sanjukta Basu [Read Order]
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The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) on Saturday directed Times Now TV channel to air a public apology to author and activist Sanjukta Basu for passing objectionable remarks against her during a TV debate in 2018.The Regulator was delivering its decision on a complaint dated 25.3.2019 received from Ms. Basu against Times Now channel regarding programmes titled "India Upfront" at 8...

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The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) on Saturday directed Times Now TV channel to air a public apology to author and activist Sanjukta Basu for passing objectionable remarks against her during a TV debate in 2018.

The Regulator was delivering its decision on a complaint dated 25.3.2019 received from Ms. Basu against Times Now channel regarding programmes titled "India Upfront" at 8 pm and "News Hour Debate" at 9 pm on 6.4.2018. Not being satisfied with the reply dated 16. 5.2018 received from the broadcaster to her Legal Notice, the complainant had escalated the complaint to the NBSA, which is the second level of complaint redressal.





Screengrabs of the objectionable show

 The complainant vide email dated 25.3.2019, stated that she wishes to register a grievance against Times Now for running a defamatory program against her on 6th April 2018, violating the Guidelines on Broadcast of Potentially Defamatory Content, basic Guidelines No.5, No.8 and others. She also forwarded the two links of the two hour programmes run by Times Now in which she was addressed derogatory remarks such as "Hindu hater,""vile troll", and it was further insinuated that she was recruited by a certain politician to make politically motivated tweets giving the impression that she was taking money or some other benefits .

The complainant had stated that she explained to the broadcaster that it was incorrect in attacking her name, reputation and integrity for the TRP's of its political program, and requested for an apology, which was not complied to by the broadcaster. In reply, again she was again called a "vile troll". She also stated that the channel did not contact her to obtain her version before running the programs which is a violation of Guideline No. 8 of Guidelines on Broadcast of Potentially Defamatory Content, and the broadcaster didn't verify all facts which is in violation of Guideline NO.5.
NBSA at its meeting held on 28.3.2019, considered the complaint, response from the broadcaster and also viewed the broadcast. NBSA noted that the photograph of the complainant was shown and the anchor described her as "Hindu hater" and "vile troll" and observed that the complainant was part of Rahul's "troll army". NBSA was of the prima facie view that there was absence of neutrality as the complainant was not given an opportunity to rebut or give her version in the said programs, which would amount to a breach of the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage relating to Accuracy, Impartiality, Objectivity and Neutrality & Fairness. 2.1 which states that ('For balanced reportage, broadcasters should remain neutral and ensure that diverse views are covered in their reporting, especially on a controversial subject, without giving undue prominence to any particular view" and Guidelines on Broadcast of Potentially Defamatory Content, basic Guidelines No.5, No.8 and 9).
NBSA therefore, decided to call both parties for a hearing on 1.5.2019. NBSA also decided to convey to the broadcaster that in case it desired to submit any further documents in its defence, it may do so within seven days of receipt of the communication calling both parties for a hearing. However, in view of the difficulty expressed by the broadcaster to attend the hearing on 1.5.2019, which reason was accepted by NBSA, the hearing was postponed to the next meeting of the NBSA on 23.9.2019.
Considering the oral as well as written submissions of both the sides, the Authority said that there were allegations and counter allegations of varied nature: "Whereas the complainant alleges that the programmes in question were derisive, defamatory, judgemental and derogatory in nature and had undermined her reputation in the society, broadcaster has denied the same".
"The broadcaster has also given its own version of the said programme and highlighting the purpose and focus thereof, with specific remarks that the complainants was neither the focal point nor the target of these programmes. The broadcaster has also taken a plea that the complainant has herself accepted that she is a public figure and and in that situation, it is open to any person, including the broadcaster to form a bona fide view about her activities/ opinions and inform the public about the same", noted the former Supreme Court judge, Justice A. K. Sikri, Chairperson, NBSA.
The Authority observed that it is channel's argument that this is permissible in view of the law laid down by the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court inasmuch as form criticism of a public person is permissible so long as it is not out of malice.
"It may be clarified at the outset that NBSA is not supposed to go into the realm of the aforesaid legal issues brought about by either the complainant or the broadcaster. The entire matter is to be examined in the context of Guideline No.5 and 8 and so to see whether these Guidelines have been violated in the broadcast of the aforesaid programmes inasmuch as the news broadcasters are discharging a public duty which comes with enormous responsibility", reflected the Authority.
Therefore, it expressed the view that while performing this public duty for balanced reporting, the principles of fairness, impartiality, objectivity and neutrality are to be followed by the broadcaster/s . Further to safeguard the reputation of the person who is being reported upon, the broadcaster should take the version of the complainant. NBSA was therefore of the view that the broadcaster had violated the principles of self-regulation relating to impartiality and objectivity, ensuring neutrality and fairness in reporting.
"NBSA decided to issue a warning to the broadcaster and also decided that the broadcaster be directed to air an apology as per the text to be furnished by the NBSA on the date and time indicated by NBSA", it has been directed.
Accordingly, the broadcaster is required to on 27.10.2020 at 9 pm air the following text (static) on full screen in large font size with a clearly audible voice-over (in slow speed) express an unconditional apology on their channel Times Now by stating the following:
"We regret that in the programmes aired on 6.4.2018 - 'India Upfront'@ 8 pm and 'The Newshour Debate'@ 9 pm on Times Now channel, we had not taken the version of the complainant Ms. Sanjukta Basu, thereby violating the principles relating to impartiality and objectivity and ensuring neutrality and fairness in reporting. We clarify that there was no intention to bring disrepute to Ms. Sanjukta Basu."
The NBSA has further decided that the video of the said broadcast, if still available on the website of the channel, or YouTube, or any other links, should be removed immediately and confirmed to NBSA in writing within 7 days. The broadcaster shall submit a CD containing the telecast with particulars of the date and time of the telecast, within one week of telecast, as proof of compliance.
After such CD is submitted by the broadcaster, the matter will be closed.
"It is clarified that any statement by both the parties in the proceedings before NBSA while responding to the complaint and putting forth their view points, and any finding or observation by NBSA in regard to the broadcasts, in its proceedings or in this Order, are only in the context of an examination as to whether there are any violations of any broadcasting standards and guidelines. They are not intended to be 'admissions' by the broadcaster, nor intended to be 'findings' by NBSA in regard to any civil/ criminal liability", added the Authority.
In her press release on Saturday, Ms. Basu called the NBSA decision "a dramatic development", commenting that "in less than twenty-four hours after she moved the Supreme Court with an Intervention Application against the NBSA" to raise pertinent questions related to the non-functioning of the body, "even before the matter could be listed or hearing could commence", the NBSA has "hurriedly released the long delayed judgment" on her complaint against the channel, "deciding in (her) favour".

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