By Raju Vernekar
Mumbai, Dec 23:
British TV regulatory authority “Ofcom” has imposed a fine of £20,000 (nearly Rs 19.7 lakh) on “Republic Bharat”, Republic TV’s Hindi channel, for hate speech against Pakistani people in a programme broadcast last year.
In its 17 page order dated 22 December 2020 “Ofcom”said that Republic Bharat’s ”Poochta Hai Bharat” programme – the evening primetime show hosted by Arnab Goswami – had failed to comply with its broadcasting rules.
“Ofcom”, which stands for Office of Communications, is the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries of the United Kingdom.
According to “Ofcom”, an episode, shown on September 6, 2019, featured “comments made by the host and some of his guests that amounted to hate speech against Pakistani people, and derogatory and abusive treatment of Pakistani people. The content was also potentially offensive and was not sufficiently justified by the context.” At the time, the atmosphere was charged with Pakistan’s critical reaction to India taking away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and breaking up the state into two Centrally-ruled UTs. But the regulator did not accept this as an extenuating circumstance.
By the time the episode aired, “Ofcom” had already notified Republic that it had been receiving a number of complaints on content broadcast by it in relation to ”highly pejorative references to members of the Pakistani community (e.g. continually referring to them as “filthy”)”.
The show under the scanner was a 35-minute discussion that hinged upon India’s “Chandrayaan” mission but sought to encompass a larger narrative on how India was advanced in space science and its neighbour Pakistan, was not. Among participants were Major Gaurav Arya, Maj General K K Sinha, Prem Shukla of the BJP, and Omar Inam and Omar Altaf from Pakistan. A third Pakistani guest remained unidentified by “Ofcom”, and according to the transcription, was largely unable to get a word in. “The host and the Indian guests dominated the discussion, with the Pakistani guests attempting to respond but largely being shouted down by the presenter and Indian guests,” “Ofcom”’s note said.
The statements made in the show by guests, and including the host Goswami, “conveyed the view that all Pakistani people are terrorists, including that: “their scientists, doctors, their leaders, politicians all are terrorists. Even their sports people”; “every child is a terrorist over there. Every child is a terrorist. You are dealing with a terrorist entity”. One guest also described Pakistani scientists as “thieves”, while another described Pakistani people as “beggars”, Ofcom” stated.
A month later the channel was found in breach of Rule 9.5 of the Broadcasting code when the logo of a financial exchange distributor was displayed on the laptop of two presenters of a programme, “Bullet 100”. In the same month, February 2020, “Ofcom” published the first ruling on the September 6, 2019 prime time debate by Arnab Goswami, which had found it guilty of breaching section 3 of the Broadcasting Code. The regulatory body had also stated that it was contemplating a fine.
However the licensee-Republic TV said that this is its first breach of section Three of the Code and has apologised to “Ofcom” for any offence caused to viewers, and the breach was unintentional.
Republic TV also informed “Ofcom” that it broadcast an apology to “redress the breaches” and “convey our regret to all our viewers”. It said that the apology was broadcast a total of 280 times between 26 February 2020 and 9 April 2020, at all hours of the day. The apology, broadcast in Hindi and English, said: “APOLOGY The communications regulator, the Office of Communications, post-viewing the September 6, 2019 episode of “Poochta Hai Bharat”, found out some offensive words were used in that program which may have disturbed the viewers. Republic Media Network apologizes if those words hurt any religion or particular person.”