The National Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority has found that news channel Times Now had violated the basic principles of its Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards in two debate shows on the February 2020 Delhi violence.
In an order, passed on November 19, the news regulatory authority directed Times Now to remove broadcast of the shows from the news channel’s website and social media accounts. The regulatory body has also directed Times Now to send a written confirmation of compliance of the order within seven days.
The news regulator said that the debates were not conducted in an “impartial and objective” way.
Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26, 2020, in North East Delhi. At least 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence.
The order was passed on complaints filed by Delhi resident Utkarsh Mishra regarding two episodes of Times Now’s debate show India Upfront, that is anchored by journalists Rahul Shivshankar and Padmaja Joshi. The two shows aired on September 14, 2020, and September 23, 2020. The episodes flouted several guidelines of the news regulatory authority, the complaint said.
“The coverage was done to target a community that is critical of the Delhi Police’s investigation and project them and their critique in a negative light, thereby unduly hindering the right of the viewer to have a fact based view on the matter and amounted to sustained campaign to challenge a position, without intimating to the viewers what that position is in its entirety or allowing panelists to explain the same,” the complaint.
In his complaint about Shivshankar’s show aired on September 14 last year, Mishra said that the anchor’s intent in reporting the details of the Delhi Police charge sheet was for “the purpose of hindering one side of a controversial public issue”.
The complaint also noted that Times Now had not covered other judicial observations and information since the last broadcast of the show “India Upfront”, that had been reported by other media organisations.
“The complainant stated that the information above was critical for a viewer to develop an unbiased opinion of the case and to understand the depth and nature of the criticism and allegations of the Delhi Police under the UAPA [Unlawful Activities Prevention Act], to target and project a particular community in a negative light,” the news regulator said.
In the complaint against Joshi’s show aired on September 23 last year, Mishra said that she had passed judgement on the matter based on witness statements and WhatsApp chats, and tried to discredit the anti-Citizenship Act protestors “by using subjudice issues as the basis for her accusations”.
The complainant also said that most of Joshi’s conversations were with a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson “who has in the past spread misinformation on the channel and been encouraged by the anchor”.
The news regulator also noted that in response to the complaints, Times Now had denied all the allegations and, in turn, questioned motives of the complainant.
“...the complainant has been making unnecessary and frivolous complaints repeatedly against the same anchors/journalists…in a whimsical manner”, the news channel’s statement read. Times Now also said that the complaints “were motivated and were deliberately being filed, targeting the anchors with certain agenda and vested interest”.
Courts have also criticised the media coverage of the February 2020 Delhi violence. In January, a court in Delhi rebuked the media for publishing alleged confessional statements of activist Umar Khalid in a case related to the clashes.
In March, a sessions court in Delhi had observed that it was “unfair and unjust” on the media’s part to report on exact contents of the chargesheet in a case when the court was yet to take cognisance on the matter, and the accused had not been provided its copies. The court said that such reporting raised the question of “leakage” of the chargesheet.