The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has found that news channel Zee News has violated the body's Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards in three programmes – aired on 19, 20, and 26 of January 2021.
After having reviewed a complaint filed by engineer and LGBTQI+ activist Indrajeet Ghorpade against the channel, the NBDSA has asked the videos to be taken down.
The NBDSA is a private and voluntary association of Indian news television broadcasters.
WHAT WERE THE COMPLAINTS ABOUT?
One of the complaints filed by Ghorpade, on 25 January, was about two programmes related to the farmers' protest titled 'Taal Thok Ke: Khalistan Se Kab Saavdhan Hoga Kisaan?' and 'Taal Thok Ke: Nahi Maane Kisaan Toh Kya Republic Day Par Hoga 'Gruha Yudh'?' respectively which were aired on Zee News on 19 and 20 January.
According to the complainant, the programmes breached the NBDSA's code which states that among other things, reporting should not "sensationalise or create panic, distress or undue fear among viewers" and that factual errors should be corrected at the earliest and the correction be given prominence.
Ghorpade had complained that in both the programmes, unverified videos of tractors with modifications were aired, adding that Zee News has still not apologised for the error. His complaint also presented examples of some of the headlines and tickers that were aired by the channel which also breached the code of ethics and made it clear that the "purpose of the programmes was to hinder the cause of the protesting farmers."
Among his examples were several tickers and headlines with the word “war,” which were aired and included in the opening statement of the anchor. According to Ghorpade, some others were: "War against the Republic," "Civil War on Republic Day," "Tractor march or War," "Conspiracy of a War against the republic," and "Terror Tractor-Trailers in the protest."
Ghorpade also submitted that the anchor made various unsubstantiated statements, claiming that the Singhu border has become a base for pro-Khalistani separatists. He stated that during the programmes, the anchor also repeatedly associated the protesting farmers with a banned organisation, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).
"....the impugned programmes were designed to create undue fear and distress amongst the viewers and erode public confidence in the capacity of national institutions meant to protect them," the complaint stated.
In another complaint filed on 29 January, Ghorpade alleged that the anchor "repeatedly stated that a protesting farmer removed and threw the National Flag of India from the Red Fort in Delhi and hoisted the Khalsa flag in its place."
However, according to the complainant, this was an inaccurate claim as he stated that it was visible from the video footage that the flag thrown away was not the National Flag of India, but possibly the flag of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU).
Ghorpade also stated in his complaint that the same claim was debunked by several news organisations.
WHAT DID ZEE NEWS SAY IN THEIR RESPONSE?
Zee News has denied the allegations, stating that they were "completely false, motivated and based on complete misinterpretation of the contents of the impugned broadcasts."
"The first two impugned programmes contained a fair and objective panel discussion /debate on various important issues pertaining to involvement of Khalistani elements into the farmers protests and the third programme was related to live telecast from Red Fort on 26.01.2021, wherein, certain elements hoisted the Kisan Union flag at Red Fort."
With respect to the first of Ghorpade's complaints, Zee News denied that it "tried to sensationalise and create panic and fear in the minds of general public".
It further stated that it had conducted "a fair and objective panel discussion on whether the farmers should go ahead with the tractor parade in New Delhi on the Republic Day, particularly when there was evidence to show the infiltration of pro-Khalistani elements in the protest."
Responding to the allegation that they wanted to hinder the farmers protest, Zee News added in their response that "it has always taken a stand that the framers are indeed the biggest patriots and the annadaataas and it supports peaceful protests."
Further, with regard to the unverified videos of tractors it had aired, Zee News submitted that they were shown "with a due disclaimer that these were viral videos which were being circulated on social media and its channel did not claim authenticity of the same."
Zee News also claimed that there had been evidence suggesting the involvement of pro-Khalistani elements in the farmers' protest.
"It is further relevant to state here that the aforesaid concern regarding the infiltration of pro Khalistani elements in the farmers protest was also echoed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by the Center," the channel said.
Zee News also pressed their point that the farmers' protest "has become a breeding ground for activities by anti-national and banned groups like Sikhs for Justice."
The objective of the two programmes, Zee News said, "was to put forth all the views to with respect to the stand of the farmers to conduct a tractor rally on the historic Republic Day and also echo the concern that if any outward or unpleasant incident happens who would be held responsible."
Responding to the second of Ghorpade's complaints about the channel's claim that the national flag had been insulted by the protestors, Zee News said that it had occurred during a live broadcast.
According to Zee News, the anchor had due to an oversight stated that the BKU's flag was hoisted after removing the national flag, and added that that the related YouTube video was thereafter removed as a corrective action.
Their reply further stated that the "complainant has miserably failed to understand the intent of the telecast and in his own accord making it a communal issue."
HOW DID GHORPADE RESPOND TO ZEE NEWS?
Responding to Zee News, Ghorpade pointed out that while the video link of the claim about the national flag being insulted had been removed, no clarification about the same had been aired by the channel with prominence, as required to in the NBDSA's guidelines.
He also stated that "he is unwilling to believe that the aforesaid error was due to an oversight, as even after the error was made during the live broadcast, the channel continued to spread the same misinformation via its digital mediums such as Youtube and Twitter."
Ghorpade further alleged that Zee News did not remove the YouTube video even after several fact-checkers pointed out the error, and only did so after the complaint was filed.
The Quint's WebQoof team was among those who fact-checked this claim by Zee News and arrived at the conclusion that the Tricolour was not removed from the Red Fort at any instance.
Further, with regard to the response by Zee News about its programmes dated 19 and 20 January, Ghorpade claimed that even though it had come to light that the unverified videos aired by the channel of modified tractors were from an unrelated event held in Germany, it failed to share any clarification later about the same.
The video in question used footage of decorated tractors to falsely show the preparation of a rally planned by protesting farmers on the Republic Day. The Quint's WebQoof team had fact-checked this claim and arrived at the conclusion that it was an old video showing vehicles carrying Christmas-related decorations in Germany.
Ghorpade also reiterated in his response that Zee News had "without any form of cognizable evidence multiple times reported that Khalistani terrorists have infiltrated the protest." He pointed out that while Zee News had said that the Centre in the Supreme Court had spoken about Khalistani infiltration in the protest, what had actually happened is that they were asked by the apex court to submit an affidavit showing any proof of Khalistani infiltration in the agitation.
WHAT DID NBDSA SAY?
The NBDSA noted in its order that news broadcasters should exercise due care and caution while reporting any news pertaining to any religious symbol/flag and follow the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards.
“All news channels will keeping with the principle of due accuracy and impartiality, ensure that significant mistakes made in the course of broadcast are acknowledged and corrected on air immediately," the code states.
Having reviewed the headlines and tickers used by Zee News and flagged by the complainant, the NBDSA found that they were in in clear violation of the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and Specific Guideline Covering Reportage, Fundamental Standards and Guidelines 1 and 2.
Expressing its disapproval of the same, the NBDSA has directed that the video of the said broadcast, if still available on the website of the channel, or YouTube, or any other links, should be removed immediately. The body has also asked for the same to be confirmed to the NBDSA in writing within seven days.