When the News Broadcasting Standards Authority directs TV news channels to apologise, do they comply?
As we found out last night, yes and no.
The TV channels in question were Zee News, Aaj Tak and India TV. On October 6, the NBSA had over specific programmes on the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The decision was taken after the NBSA scrutinised multiple complaints about the programmes.
Aaj Tak, for instance, was pulled up for “manufacturing tweets”, airing pictures of Rajput’s body, barging into the house of Rajput’s father and “relentlessly” questioning him, and using the headline “Aise kaise hit wicket ho gaye Sushant?”. The channel was directed to air three apologies and pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
Zee News was hauled up for running the headline “Patna ka Sushant, Mumbai me fail kyu?”, among other violations of the NBSA code. India TV was told to apologise for repeatedly broadcasting pictures of Rajput's body, and describing it in gruesome detail.
The NBSA gave the three channels the “exact wording” of their respective apologies, and directed them to remove the programmes in question from the internet.
They had to air their apologies on October 27. A fourth channel, News24, is scheduled to apologise on October 29.
While we will break down what played out, here is the gist of it: Zee News and India TV complied, airing verbatim the apologies as prescribed in the NBSA’s order. Aaj Tak did not.
Zee News admitted that it had violated specific guidelines on suicide reporting by sensationalising its reports, and creating “panic, distress, or undue fear among viewers”. The apology was aired at 9 pm in accordance with the NBSA's instructions.
Here's the video of Zee's apology, posted on Twitter by Saurav Das, one of the complainants.
India TV was pulled up for its violation of the NBSA guidelines in showing images of Rajput's body. It had, for example, described in detail the marks on Rajput’s neck and the colour of his lips, and repeatedly aired images of his body.
The channel apologised at 9 pm, admitting that they had “violated Clause 3.6 of the Specific Guidelines Coverage....which state that 'the dead must be treated with respect.. Close-ups of dead and mutilated bodies should not be shown.'”
What of Aaj Tak?
The channel was to air its apology at 8 pm. Here’s the text of the apology as sent by the NBSA:
Instead, Aaj Tak ran this: “Aaj Tak, like other 70 channels, is an active member of the NBA and strictly adheres to the code of conduct and regulations issued by the NBSA.”
Nilesh Navalakha, who had filed one of the complaints against Aaj Tak, told Newslaundry: “This is not the first time this has happened. They haven’t apologised and as far as I know, they have not paid the fine either. We are going to appeal to NBSA again that the order has not been followed, and will also bring it to the notice of the Chief Justice of Maharashtra by filing a petition in the high court and I believe it will take cognizance of it.”
If Aaj Tak could flout the NBSA’s order, he pointed out, what was the point of having such regulatory bodies? “The NBSA is a toothless body that can’t regulate or enforce the orders,” he said.
Newslaundry contacted Annie Joseph, secretary of the NBSA, to ask why Aaj Tak had not complied, but Joseph refused to comment on the matter.
Newslaundry contacted Sakshi Kohli, head of corporate communications for the India Today Group, to ask about Aaj Tak’s non-compliance with the NBSA order. We received a response attributed to the media house's corporate communications team.
It said: “We are proud members of the NBA and strictly adhere to the guidelines laid down by the NBSA and the code prescribed by them. We have immense regard for the NBSA and if they have found something objectionable in our news coverage then we respect their decision. We are committed to self-regulation and firmly believe that it only makes the network of broadcasters better and our industry stronger.”
On the channel not airing the apology on October 27, the response said: “We have pleaded for a recall of this particular order on the grounds of jurisdiction.”
Update at 9.45 pm, October 28: Aaj Tak aired its apology just after 9 pm on October 28. It specifically apologised for using taglines like "Aise kaise hit wicket ho gaye Sushant?" and "Sushant zindagi ki pitch par hit wicket kaise ho gaye", stating it had violated clauses by which "any deceased person should be respected and their death should not be sensationalised".
However, it did not apologise for "manufacturing" tweets, which had been part of the NBSA's order.
Joining the chorus of apologies yesterday was Times Now which, in a separate order, had been to apologise for making objectionable comments about author and activist Sanjukta Basu. The comments were on April 6, 2018, and included phrases like “Hindu hater” and “vile troll”.
Times Now toed the line and aired its apology last night, stating that it had violated “the principles relating to impartiality and objectivity [and] ensuring neutrality and fairness in reporting.”
Basu responded to the apology on Twitter, saying the “fight goes on”.
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