- NL Sena
It is necessary to hold broadcasters to high standards of journalistic ethics but it is equally important to ensure that journalists are not intimidated or harassed while doing their job.
On September 4, the News Broadcasters Association, a self-regulatory organisation tasked with fostering high standards and ethical practices in TV news, had asked Republic TV to apologise during prime-time news hour.
The order was issued in response to a complaint filed by Apurv Singh and his partner Pratishtha Singh.
In a January 9 broadcast, Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami can be heard referring to a bunch of people present at Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani’s Yuva Hunkar rally, including Singh, as “perverse”, “vulgar”, “goons”, “sexist” and “thugs” multiple times. According to Goswami, this group of people had made lewd gestures and harassed Republic TV associate editor and anchor Shivani Gupta. It is to this that Singh had taken objection to.
In the video that Republic TV broadcast, a group of people can be seen surrounding Gupta and raising slogans: “Murdabad, murdabad”.
On January 9, Newslaundry had reported how the behaviour of a certain section of the crowd at that event was a cause for worry for news professionals.
Gupta was reporting on the poor supporter turn out at Mevani’s rally in Delhi. While she is still on air, a small crowd surrounded her and raised slogans of paid media. For a reporter on the field, this can indeed be intimidating.
The video also shows one member of the crowd making some gestures with his hand. Gupta singles out this individual and confronts him. “Make that gesture you were making right now, kya kar rahe the (what were you doing),” she can be heard saying. In the background, Singh can be heard saying “jhooth bol rahi hai [she is lying]”. Later in the video, a police official escorts Gupta away.
Gupta gave Newslaundry a detailed statement on NBSA’s order, produced in its entirety below.
I am highly alarmed and disturbed with both the way the hearing was conducted and the decision thereafter. Firstly, I was made to sit right next to one of my harassers in the hearing, the complainant who was clearly part of the mob attacking and intimidating me. This despite the fact that the panel is aware Republic TV has lodged a police complaint in this regard. Secondly, his wife was allowed to attend the hearing and speak on his behalf even though she was not present on the spot and had nothing to do with the case. This is the same woman who wrote a blog on a news website the very next day and described so frivolously the actions of the mob. I quote, ‘Roars of Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar and other young leaders suppressed any cheap thrill the female journalist might have tried to gain from the scene.’ Would they have allowed my parents too? I am sure my father and mother have a lot to say about the man’s behaviour.
All through the process, the panel seemed less concerned with the act of the complainant and the mob he was clearly part of and more with the words used by Arnab Goswami to describe them. It is clear he was no innocent bystander. The smirk on his face says it all. As I have mentioned earlier and said many times during the hearing, the man heckled me all day and then added to the intimidation when I was surrounded. He egged on the crowd even as I tackled lewd gestures towards me. What words should rather be used to describe a vulgar, sexist, cheap and perverse bunch of goons? Is the panel now of the view that a reporter can be intimidated just because a leader’s thugs don’t like what she is saying or the channel she comes from? Is this the precedent the news body wants to set?
I think the NBSA has not fully understood the gravity of what they are dealing with. They have effectively turned a harasser into a victim. The man was less uncomfortable with his actions which he even sought to defend in the hearing. He is just uncomfortable because he was caught on tape. Republic TV has written to the body and asked for a review. I hope they will see and correct the error in their judgement. Both Arnab and I feel very strongly against condoning and legitimising such spineless mob behaviour and the channel will continue to fight this with its full might.
As things stand now, Republic TV has not apologised and filed a review petition.
When we reached out to Singh for his comment, he declined to respond to allegations of harassment, he claimed that no heckling had taken place. He said his comment (“jhooth bol rahi hai”) that was recorded on the video was in reference to Gupta’s comments about the supporter turnout being low at the venue. As for the man who was singled out by Gupta, Singh claimed: “The young guys were talking amongst themselves. The young man was pulled out and made a part of a false narrative.”
There are two issues here. One, Goswami’s somewhat unjustified harangue against people gathered at Jignesh Mevani’s rally — which also implicated an ABP News journalist for which Republic TV later apologised. And, two, the treatment meted out to Gupta by the crowd.
Irrespective of how one may perceive Republic TV and its reporting, by heckling Gupta, the crowd at the rally had interfered in her right to collect and disseminate information as a reporter. By not acknowledging this basic right, NBSA’s order sets a bad precedent for reporters who may feel vulnerable while reporting in front of a hostile crowd in the future.
NBSA limited itself to its official prerogative but that shouldn’t have stopped it from addressing the issues Gupta raised — after all it is body comprising news professionals. It is necessary to hold broadcasters to high standards of journalistic ethics, but it is equally important to ensure that journalists are not intimidated or harassed while doing their job.
Newslaundry reached out to the NBSA for a comment. The piece will be updated as and when they respond.