NBDSA cracks whip, asks Aaj Tak to remove ‘fictional video’ targeting Rahul, Congress

The animated clip was aired on the channel’s primetime show a day after a Surat court convicted Rahul of defamation last year.

WrittenBy:NL Team
Pictures of Sudhir Chaudhary and Rahul Gandhi.

A year ago, Aaj Tak anchor Sudhir Chaudhary narrated the bizarre story of a highway dacoit on his primetime show Black and White in a purported insinuation to Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in the 2019 defamation case. Now, the national broadcasting authority has asked the channel to remove the “fictional story” from its website and social media accounts. 

The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority, in its decision on the complaint filed by Youth Congress president Srinivas BV, said the “story of the robber and the imputation it carried” with Gandhi’s conviction was “not in good taste” and “should have been avoided”. The NBDSA also advised the channel to be “careful while airing such fictional videos” in future. 

In another case, the NBDSA fined Times Now Navbharat and News18 India and warned Aaj Tak for targeting the Muslim community in their broadcasts. All three channels were directed to take down their violative content.   

The “fictional video” mentioned in Srinivas’s complaint is an animation aired in the Black and White episode on March 24 last year, a day after a Surat court convicted Rahul of defamation for a 2019 speech about thieves with the surname “Modi”.

In the episode, Chaudhary referred to a tweet by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and said both Priyanka and the Congress party were defending Rahul in the name of inaction on bigger criminals. 

He said in Hindi, “Iss mamle mein Rahul Gandhi ka bachav karte hue, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra aur Congress party ye tark de rahe hein ki aur bhi logon ne toh itne apradh kiye hain iss desh mein. Lekin karawahi sirf Rahul Gandhi ke khilaf kyun ho rahi hain.” 

Subsequently, he gave a disclaimer in Hindi: “Aaj hum apko ek chhoti si kahani sunana chahte hain. Isse kisi ke saath jod kar mat dekhiyega.” Loosely translating to, “Today, I will tell you a short story. Do not link it with any person.”    

He narrated the fictional story of a dacoit who named Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Mehul Choksi as “bigger criminals” in an attempt to get away with his crime. While Chaudhary narrated the story, the animations showed a man looting people with a gun and then being caught by the police.   

The anchor concluded, “Dusre logon ke apradh gina kar khud ke apradh kum nahi kar sakte. Lekin Congress party aisa hi kar rahi hain. By counting other’s crimes, one cannot reduce their own crime. But the Congress party is doing just that,” said Chaudhary.   

The complaint alleged that the channel took “refuge” in the disclaimer, while it was aware that the broadcast was defamatory, and that Chaudhary had “maliciously” played the defamatory video to portray that Gandhi was “quoting Nirav Modi and others as a justification for evading law”. 

It also cited a tweet by the channel which was captioned: “Dusron ke apradh ginane se Rahul Gandhi ke apradh kum honge (By counting others crimes, will Rahul Gandhi’s crime get reduced)?” 

The broadcasting body’s statement, which included the complainant’s submission, read: “With the disclaimer, the channel was attempting to escape liability as it was aware that the contents of the impugned broadcast was defamatory.”

However, the NBDSA said it reviewed the complaint, the broadcaster’s response, and the video footage, and found that while the anchor “gave a different narrative” to the tweet, there was no violation of Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards to conclude it was defamatory. But it added that the video was “not in good taste” and “should have been avoided”.

It said: “Avernments contained in the complaint relating to defamation do not meet the threshold of defamation…It would be appropriate for the broadcaster to remove the fictional video in the impugned broadcast if it is still available on the website of the channel, or YouTube.”  

Speaking to Newslaundry, Youth Congress president Srinivas BV said, “Today’s order is too little and too late, given the extent of hate and propaganda by news channels.”

He added, “It’s not about an individual or a channel, It's about the BJP's control over these news channels as their propaganda instruments where BJP operatives posing as journalists are following the PMO's script to spread hate and damage the reputation of the opposition, especially Rahul Gandhi ji.”

On the content of the mainstream news channels, Srinivas said their news and narratives are “similar to the tweets posted by BJP’s IT cell and Amit Malviya.” and that it’s “unjust to call these propaganda channels ‘news channels’ and these primetime anchors ‘journalists’ since there are still many journalists trying to keep journalism alive.” 

NBDSA fines Times Now Navbharat, News18 India

The broadcasting authority also came down heavily on three news channels – Times Now Navbharat, News18 India and Aaj Tak – for airing content “targeting the entire community”, and callously using the phrase “love jihad”. The NBDSA imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on Times Now Navbharat, a Rs 50,000 fine on News18 India, and warned Aaj Tak.

The broadcasting body’s decision came on the complaint of Indrajeet Ghorpade, who routinely flags hate and misinformation on TV news.  

The complaints mentioned insinuating tickers used in primetime shows of anchors including Aaj Tak’s Sudhir Chaudhary, News18 India’s Aman Chopra and Amish Devgan, and Times Now Navbharat’s Himanshu Dixit.    

The NBDSA’s statement said the term “love jihad” must be used with “great introspection as religious stereotyping amounts to violation of the Code of Ethics and can corrode the secular fabric of the country”. 

It added that such reportage “cause irreparable harm to a community and create religious intolerance or disharmony” and violated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards.

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