The channel reported on Rajput’s ‘last words’ on Twitter except, of course, the tweets turned out to be fake.
Yesterday, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority reaffirmed its order passed last October that news channel Aaj Tak must air an apology for its coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
Dismissing the channel’s application that the direction be reviewed, the NBSA told Aaj Tak to air its apology on April 23 at 8 pm. There was “no substance” in Aaj Tak’s appeal for a review, the association said.
The question is, of course, whether Aaj Tak will comply.
Here’s what happened.
Sorry, not sorry
On October 6 last year, the NBSA directed Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV and News24 to air apologies in the context of specific programmes on Rajput’s death. The decision was taken after the NBSA scrutinised multiple complaints over the programmes.
Aaj Tak was specifically 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 “manufactured tweets” had been pointed out by fact-checking website Boom on June 17, 2020. The tweets were purportedly Rajput’s “last words” on Twitter before his death, and had been widely shared by media houses, including Aaj Tak. Boom confirmed that the tweets were fake and Aaj Tak later took down its report.
As a result, Aaj Tak was directed to air an apology on October 27, as well as paying a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The NBSA also prescribed the text for the apology:
Subsequently, October 27 came and went without Aaj Tak airing its apology. 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. Instead, it aired this message:
To translate: “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.”
At the time, the channel’s corporate communication team had told Newslaundry that they had “pleaded for a recall of this particular order”.
Over five months later, the NBSA finally gave its response: that Aaj Tak’s plea for recall would not be considered and it needed to apologise.
The organisation said: “NBSA noted that the contentions raised by the broadcaster in its application for review/recall were available to the broadcaster when it filed its reply to the complaint, and no such averments/contentions were made either in the response filed by the broadcaster or in the submissions made during the hearing. Therefore, there was no occasion for NBSA to consider such contentions. The contentions raised in the reply filed by the broadcaster and in the oral submissions were taken into consideration by NBSA before the order was passed.”
It added that “additional and new pleadings and submissions” cannot be raised while “seeking a review/recall of an order”.
Nilesh Navlakha, who had filed the complaint against Aaj Tak, told Newslaundry that he doesn’t know whether Aaj Tak will comply with the order this time around, or what course of action the NBSA will take should Aaj Tak flout its order.
“The NBSA has made this order before and Aaj Tak did not adhere to it,” he pointed out. “If they [Aaj Tak] don’t adhere to it again, then what is the course of action? The NBSA is a powerless body, a body that can pass orders but there is no compulsion made by them on any of their members.”
He added that the NBSA should have imposed a “greater fine” on Aaj Tak and said: “How to make them adhere to this order: that should be looked into.” Navlakha said he might challenge the NBSA’s order before the Delhi High Court.
Newslaundry reached out to Aaj Tak’s corporate communications team to ask whether the channel plans to air an apology on April 23. This report will be updated if we receive a response.