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NBSA pulls up Republic TV, Times Now, News Nation, Aaj Tak, India Today

The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has looked into complaints against News Nation TV, Republic TV, Times Now, Aaj Tak and India Today, which pertain to new reports as well as sting operations run by the news channels. The complaints range from allegations of “factually wrong” reports to trial by media. 

National Heart Institute, New Delhi Vs News Nation TV 

The Complaint: In a complaint dated December 4, 2017, the National Heart Institute alleged that News Nation TV had telecast a story that the Institute had raised “false and inflated bills and collected money from one of the relatives of a patient, Raj Rani, who has since expired”. The complaint further stated that the Institute’s General Manager (Finance & Liaison), SK Shailly, had clarified the issue in detail and categorically informed the reporter that no such bill was ever raised or claimed or collected as alleged by the relatives of the patient and had provided a copy of the original bill to the reporter. National Heart Institute alleged, “The news channel team had fabricated and telecast/aired a false story, with a view to malign the reputation of the National Heart Institute amongst general public and apparently with the object of extracting money using arm twisting method”, which was “factually wrong and not in conformity with responsible journalism”. 

Broadcaster’s Response: News Nation TV, in its response dated December 4, 2017, denied the allegation that the broadcaster was biased in its reporting. The broadcaster stated that at no point during the said telecast it had attempted to portray any of the parties involved in the dispute to be at fault, but on the other hand, “had merely telecast the interviews/ statements of both the parties in an impartial and honest manner, maintaining the best of the journalistic standards”. The broadcaster emphasised that it did not alter the content of the interview or statement of either party, and clearly conveyed the reactions of both parties involved and in particular, reported the following statement of the hospital during the telecast of the interview/ statement of the representative of hospital. 

NBSA’s Order: On considering contentions of both the parties and the contents of the news report aired by News Nation TV, NBSA was of the view that the story was broadcast without proper or adequate verification of the facts; that the contents of the news report were wrong and without basis. 

NBSA has directed News Nation TV to air a regret as per the text furnished by the Authority as follows:
“We regret that on 27.11.2017 at 10.30 pm we had broadcast on our channel News Nation a news report against National Heart Institute, East of Kailash, New Delhi, alleging overbilling and excess charging to patients. That was an incorrect report based on wrong information. The report was aired without proper verification of facts from the Hospital, thereby violating the principles relating to impartiality and objectivity in reporting and neutrality. We clarify that there was no intention on our part to bring disrepute to National Heart Institute, East of Kailash, New Delhi.” 

The message needs to be aired prior to the commencement of the 8 pm news on June 12, 2018 on full screen in large font size with a clearly audible voice-over expressing regret for the said telecast on News Nation TV. 

Popular Front of India Vs Republic TV 

The Complaint: A complaint filed by M Mohamed Ali Jinnah, General Secretary, Popular Front of India (PFI) against Republic TV accused the English news channel of carrying out a trial by media against the organisation by making “false allegations”. The complaint stated that in a debate anchored by Arnab Goswami, aired on January 1, 2018, Republic TV had showed a hashtag, “#BanPFIDemand”. Simultaneously, the channel also conducted a voting on Twitter under the topic: ‘#BanPFI: Should terror linked PFI be banned now?” 

The complaint further stated that the channel portrayed allegations as facts and conveyed the impression that the charges against PFI were findings of guilt, which was “unfair and violative of the Code of Ethics and Guidelines”. 

Broadcaster’s Response: Republic TV stated that the claims and contentions in the complaint were false, baseless, vague and unsubstantiated. The broadcaster contended that the news debate was aired based on material relating to four cases shared by the National Investigation Agency with the Ministry of Home Affairs, wherein members of PFI and its affiliated political organisation, namely, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), had been charge-sheeted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; that one of the four cases, the details of which had been shared by NIA with the MHA, pertained to the charge-sheet filed in relation to the murder of a Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh worker, Rudresh, in Bengaluru. The broadcaster further contended that, as widely reported in print and electronic media, NIA in its charge-sheet had named five members of PH and SDPI as accused individuals responsible for the murder of the RSS worker. 

NBSA’s Order: NBSA at its meeting held on May 24, 2018 noted that there is only a charge-sheet and no finding by any court of tribunal that PFI is a terror linked organisation, nor had the government declared PFI as a terror organisation or an organisation indulging in unlawful activities. The use of the hashtags and conducting a voting under the topic ‘#Ban PFI: Should terror linked PFI be banned now’, the statement ‘The terror link is exposed tonight’, and the telecast scroll ‘Terror proof emerges against PFI’ would amount to a trial and judgment by media on unverified hearsay material. The Authority was, therefore, of the view that the broadcaster had violated the Regulations and Guidelines of NBA/NBSA relating to the need to maintain neutrality, impartiality and fairness and reporting of matters which are sub judice or under investigation. 

Hence, NBSA warned the broadcaster to exercise more care and caution while reporting about matters pending trail/ investigation or in using objectionable hashtags in regard to such reports which may give an impression that the broadcaster is indulging in a media trial/ prejudice against the person/ institution being reported upon. NBSA also directed the broadcaster that the video of the said programme, if hosted, on Republic TV website, YouTube or any website or any other links should be removed immediately and confirmed to NBSA. 

Popular Front of India Vs Times Now 

The Complaint: Republic TV was not the only broadcaster against whom M Mohamed Ali Jinnah of Popular Front of India (PFI) had filed a complaint. The organisation also filed a complaint against Times Now on a news report aired on the channel on October 7, 2017 and November 5, 2017 about the Grand Conference conducted by PFI in Kerala. It was alleged that the channel had showed the hashtags ‘Incubator of Hate Parades’ and ‘Muslim hate group given free run?’ in its news report on October 7, 2017, and that on November 5, 2017, Times Now used the hashtags ‘#BanPFI’ and ‘When will Centre #BANPFI?’. 

The complainant alleged that the channel had telecast false news item against his organisation with false allegations and added that the channel portrayed mere allegations as facts and conducted a media trial by equating the charges against PFI/ its members as proved offences/ acts of guilt, which was unfair and against principles of natural justice. 

Broadcaster’s Response: Responding to the complainant, Times Now stated that the news report aired on October 7, 2017 focused on the rally of PFI’s grand conference in Kerala and raised certain questions. The channel further stated that the references to allegations of terror links of PFI were based on NIA’s reports and a dossier prepared by the MHA, as accessed by the channel, which clearly claimed that PFI is allegedly indulging in acts detrimental to overall national security of India and are purportedly pursuing a secret agenda inspired by radical Islam; that the Tribunal under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (U AP:-1) had referred to PFI’s links with banned terror group SIMI; that these allegations and charges documented were of a serious nature and it was in public interest that such allegations were highlighted; that it was in this context and background that the said news report on October 7, 2017. 

Times Now maintained that the matter covered by the said news reports was of significant national interest and the same was carried in public interest by placing pertinent issues surrounding the allegations before the public; and the channel carried an objective coverage and discussion on the issue based on reports available with representatives of all possible factions being given due opportunity to react to the said news reports. 

NBSA’s order: As in the case of Republic TV, NBSA noted that there is only a charge-sheet and no finding by any court of tribunal that PFI is an incubator of hate or is a ‘Hate Group’, nor had the government declared PFI as a terror organisation or an organisation indulging in unlawful activities. The use of the hashtags on the assumption that PFI is a hate group which required to be banned would amount to a trial and judgment by media on unverified hearsay material. NBSA was, therefore, of the view that the broadcaster had violated the Regulations and Guidelines of NBA/ NBSA relating to the need to maintain neutrality, impartiality and fairness and reporting of matters which are sub judice or under investigation. 

NBSA warned Times Now to exercise more care and caution while reporting about matters pending trail/ investigation or in using objectionable hashtags in regard to such reports which may give an impression that the broadcaster is indulging in a media trial/ prejudice against the person/ institution being reported upon. NBSA also directed the broadcaster that the video of the said programme, if hosted, on the Times Now website, YouTube or any website or any other links should be removed immediately and confirmed to NBSA. 

Popular Front of India Vs Aaj Tak and India Today 

The Complaints: In separate complaints filed, Mohamed Ali Jinnah of Popular Front of India (PFI) and AS Zainaba, President, National Women’s Front (NWF) raised objections against news reports filed by Aaj Tak and India Today, wherein the organisation was allegedly shown to be indulging in ‘Love Jihad’ and also associating with terror groups. The complaint further alleged that As Zainaba was mentioned to be the head of the women’s unit of PFI, whereas the organisation neither had women membership nor a women’s wing. The complainants maintained that the said allegations were “false, misleading and defamatory”. “Declaring PFI as ‘Deshdrohi’ was unacceptable and was intended to malign the image of PFI and to offend the sensitivities of Muslim religious group and create religious intolerance and disharmony. 

In its complaint against India Today, it was stated that the channel had aired a ‘Breaking News’ on December 2, 2017, alleging PFI of illegal conversions, having links with terror groups, including ISIS, SIMI. The news report had further stated that PFI would be banned by the Home Ministry. 

Broadcasters’ Response (Aaj Tak & India Today): The broadcasters reiterated the averments made in their response to the complaint and stated that story based on the sting operation was telecast as recorded; that the material/ footage was not doctored to present a particular point of view; that the broadcaster was willing to submit the entire raw footage taken by it to support its view that the sting operation was not doctored; that the story on Sathya Sarani was supported by and was based on the confidential reports and dossiers of the NIA and Police that mentions that Popular Front of India uses sister outfits like Sathya Sarani to carry out ‘forceful conversions’. The broadcasters denied the allegations of holding a media trial. 

NBSA’s order: After hearing both sides (in the four complaints), NBSA asked the broadcasters to submit the material on which they had based their news reports, including the NIA report, as the said documents had not been submitted earlier. NBSA also directed that the raw footage of the sting operation be submitted to it within 10 days. The complainants were also directed to submit documents in their possession which disprove the broadcasters’ statements in the broadcasts. 

Post considering the complaints, responses and the documents produced by the parties, NBSA was of the view that the scope of its enquiry being restricted to examining whether there was any violation of the NBA/ NBSA Regulations & Guidelines, it would not be able to decide whether the documents relied upon by the broadcasters were fake, as alleged by the complainants. It asked the complainants to approach the appropriate forum in this regard.

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