The News Broadcasting Standards Authority has directed TV news channels Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV and News24 to air apologies in the context of specific programmes broadcast by the channels on the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Additionally, it issued a warning to News Nation and ABP News and fined Aaj Tak Rs 1 lakh.
In an order dated October 6, these channels were also directed to take down their respective programmes from their websites, YouTube channels and others. The NBSA's order was signed by its chairperson Justice (retired) AK Sikri, and a copy of it was sent to Newslaundry by one of the complainants, Saurav Das.
The decision was taken after the NBSA scrutinised multiple complaints against programmes on the channels. The complainants and representatives from the news channels had a virtual meeting with the NBSA on September 24.
Some of the media coverage on Rajput's death and the subsequent investigation has truly plumbed the depths. From to the to passing off a , our TV channels saw it all.
In this case, the complaints received by the NBSA pointed out specific programmes in the first few weeks that followed Rajput's death, in the early days of coverage.
Aaj Tak, for example, was fined and directed to apologise based on a complaint filed by Nilesh Navalakha on how the channel had purportedly "" and attributed them to the actor. Aaj Tak had first responded that the tweets were real, and then quietly deleted the programme from its platforms.
Zee News, Aaj Tak and News24 were also cited in complaints about taglines and tickers used during their coverage of Rajput's death. Aaj Tak, for instance, used the headline “Aise kaise hit-wicket ho gaye Sushant?", and Zee News used “Patna ka Sushant, Mumbai me fail kyu?". News24 chose "Hey, why didn’t you watch your own film, Sushant?", a reference to Rajput's movie Chhichhore which dealt with the topic of mental health.
Aaj Tak's defence was that it used the phrase "hit wicket" only once in one of its scrolls, for "a few seconds", and denied that it "demeaned the dignity" of the actor. (Note: Aaj Tak's anchor used the phrase too.) Zee News claimed that it had intended to "create a dialogue" on mental health, and News24, while stating that it did not mean to cause offence, said it was willing to apologise. The NBSA told all three to air apologies.
Aaj Tak was pulled up to apologise for yet another programme where its reporter barged into the house of Rajput's father in Patna, shortly after Rajput's death, and "relentlessly bombarded" him with questions. Aaj Tak responded that its coverage had not been "abhorrent" or "shameful", but the NBSA noted that the media "cannot thrust itself on a person and interview him/her against his/her wishes".
A complaint was also filed with the NBSA about ABP News rushing to interview Rajput's cousin. The NBSA said the cousin had "voluntarily" given the channel an interview, and let it off with a warning.
India TV was directed to apologise for repeatedly broadcasting pictures of Rajput's body, and describing the corpse in gruesome detail. Aaj Tak was directed to air an apology yet again for the same offence, and also for describing at length the method of Rajput's death.
News Nation showed Rajput's body too, but the NBSA let it off with a warning since the channel had expressed "profuse regret".
It should be noted that Republic is not part of the News Broadcasters Association and therefore not under the purview of the NBSA. The channel is formed in 2019.
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