Zee News unlikely to apologise for inflammatory reporting on Indo-Pak mushaira

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The News Broadcasting Standards Authority had ordered the channel to pay a fine of ₹ one lakh and carry an apology at the specified time on full screen

Zee News is unlikely to carry the ‘regret’ at 9 PM on Friday, September 8, as directed by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), said sources within Zee Media Corporation Ltd on Saturday. The channel, they indicated, would challenge the order.

In a rare order, the NBSA had ordered the channel to pay a fine of ₹ one lakh to the NBSA and carry an apology at the specified time on full screen. The apology was to be tendered for violating guidelines of the NBSA in a programme that was reportedly aired nine times between March 9 and March 12, 2016.

While the channel was reporting on an Indo-Pak mushaira, the 51st anniversary of the Annual Shankar Shad Mushaira, which began in 1954, it used the title “Afzal Premi Gang Ka Mushaira”, described eminent poet and scientist Dr Gauhar Raza as ‘Deshdrohi’, or traitor, and used video footage from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Kashmir to buttress the point that the event was a gathering of traitors.

Aggrieved Dr Raza filed a complaint with the broadcaster, but Zee News refused to tender any apology or retract. Dr Raza, then, approached the NBSA and sought a public apology, removal of the programme from public domain and payout of ₹ one crore as compensation.

The programme had done immense harm to his reputation, complained Dr Raza, and had endangered not just his own life but also the lives of his family members. In his complaint, Dr Raza mentioned that he had recited three poems at the event, two of them written in 1989 and 2010, while the third one was written in 2016.

Several public intellectuals, including writer Ashok Vajpeyi, actor Sharmila Tagore, well-known singer Shubha Mudgal and writer Dr Syeda Hameed, also filed a separate complaint with the NBSA and said that they were aggrieved by the irresponsible, provocative and aggressive programme, which had little bearing on facts or poetry. Dr Raza, they pointed out, had not even mentioned Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his involvement in the Parliament attack.

Yet, Dr Raza was described as ‘Desh Vidrohi Shayar’ (Treasonous Poet) and viewers’ passion was sought to be raised. So much so that Dr Raza began receiving hate mails, was at the receiving end of abusive messages on social media and received threatening messages.

The channel, however, denied the charges in its written response. Its lawyers and representatives also refused to relent at the hearing called by the NBSA, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice RV Raveendran. They maintained that Dr Raza had spoken of former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar “positively” and hence the channel was entitled to exercise its freedom of expression and make ‘fair comment’.

The NBSA on each of its hearings, however, unanimously found merit in the complaints against the channel and recorded its finding that the programme was violative of the NBSA codes and guidelines.

In its order dated August 31, the NBSA recorded its inability to act on Dr Raza’s plea for compensation as this was beyond its jurisdiction. But it directed the channel to pay a fine, remove the video from the YouTube channel and carry prominently the regret at 9 PM on September 8.

The order itself has had mixed reactions. While Dr Raza voiced his satisfaction, lawyer Vrinda Grover felt the order would act as a deterrent to TV channels. Zee News’ Editor-in-Chief, Sudhir Chaudhary, however, maintained that the channel had not violated any NBSA guideline and he would, if necessary, challenge the order in court.

Several sections of the media, however, felt that the NBSA had been far too lenient and had let the channel off the hook. The order, they felt, should have specified the number of times the channel had to air the ‘regret’ and the number of seconds it should remain on the screen each time. Otherwise, they pointed out, the channel could easily air it for 10 seconds or less as the last of the ‘advertisements’ before slipping into prime time.

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