Aaj Tak fined another Rs 75,000 for 'misleading' broadcast on Obama

NBDSA asks channel to take down videos criticising a statement by former US President Barack Obama

Sudhir Chaudhary of Aaj Tak with Narendra Modi and Donald Trump (photo: @sudhirchaudhary/X)
Sudhir Chaudhary of Aaj Tak with Narendra Modi and Donald Trump (photo: @sudhirchaudhary/X)

NH Digital

The News Broadcasting & Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) on Thursday asked Hindi news channel Aaj Tak to take down videos criticising a statement by former US President Barack Obama, and levied a fine of Rs 75,000 for violating principles of objectivity and neutrality in its broadcast. The order was passed on a complaint by Utkarsh Mishra against the programme 'Black and White' aired by Aaj Tak on 26 June 2023.

NBDSA chairperson justice A.K. Sikri observed that while criticising Obama's statement, anchor Sudhir Chaudhary went overboard by bringing in an unrelated narrative and connecting Obama's statement with separatist organisations and extremist groups, and using phrases like 'tukde tukde gang', 'Khalistanis in Punjab' and 'Pakistani supporters'.

In June 2023, Obama expressed concern about the rights of vulnerable sections in India, and stated that the country may "pull apart" if the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are not upheld. He emphasised that the Biden administration should discuss these issues "honestly" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was on a state visit to the US.

“If the [US] President meets with Prime Minister Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in a Hindu majority India is worth mentioning. If I had a conversation with Prime Minister Modi, who I know well, part of my argument would be that if you don’t protect the rights of ethnic minorities in India, there is a strong possibility that India would at some point start pulling apart,” said Obama.

The complainant stated that the broadcast by Aaj Tak grossly mischaracterised the statement made by Obama and attributed it to the 'tukde tukde gang' and 'separatist and terrorist movements like Khalistan', and prejudiced viewers' understanding of the issue.

This, the complainant argued, was violative of the principles of neutrality and objectivity under the 'Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage', guidelines G, H and K under the 'Specific Guidelines for Anchors Conducting Programmes Including Debates', and 'Guidelines for Prevention of Hate Speech'.

The complainant pointed out the anchor had stated that the former US president had been misled by separatists and foreign intelligence agency organisations, which Chaudhary tried to contrast with the belief that Modi was promoting minority rights and cultural ties with West Asian countries as evidenced by improving trade relations.

Aaj Tak argued that disagreeing with the view expressed in the broadcast was hardly grounds for a challenge, and claimed that Chaudhary was not comparing Obama to the 'tukde tukde gang', but was merely stating that the language used by him was usually used by 'separatist organisations, Khalistanis and terrorists' who believe in the idea of separation and secession.

The channel claimed that phrases such as 'tukde tukde gang', and 'urban Naxals' have become part of everyday language, including that used by media, but argued that there was no blanket prohibition regarding the usage of such terms.

“There would have been no issue with the impugned (broadcast) had the anchor confined his analysis only to reporting the statement made by Mr Obama or criticising it. However, in the impugned broadcast, while doing so the anchor went totally stringent and overboard by bringing in a totally unconnected narrative,” the NBDSA order stated.

It also observed that the anchor connected the statement, out of the blue, with separatist organisations and extremist groups supporting 'Khalistan', which was a gross misrepresentation.

NBDSA has directed Aaj Tak to edit the video of the broadcast by expunging the objectionable parts and if that was not possible, to remove the video from all its platforms, channels and websites. The regulatory body underscored that Chaudhary had violated the principles of objectivity and neutrality by connecting Obama's statement to separatist organisations.

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