The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority on Monday passed orders against four shows hosted by news anchor Aman Chopra of the Hindi news channel News18 India for objectionable statements he had made about Muslims.
In the first case, the news regulatory body found that a debate hosted by Chopra on January 18 last year had religious undertones. “By starting the debate on the premise that 20% people were ganging up against Hindus constituting 80%, the anchor had given the debate a thrust, which is communal in nature and not appropriate,” the order said.
The programme, NBDSA chairperson Justice (retired) AK Sikri said, had violated the fundamental principles of impartiality, objectivity and neutrality that are necessary during reporting.
The complainant, Anuj Dubey, submitted that Chopra deliberately made statements that maligned the Muslim community.
“The entire premise of the show revolved around creating a negative image of the Muslim community to instigate the members of the Hindu community to develop hatred for Muslims,” he alleged. “Throughout the show, the anchor indulged in racial and religious stereotyping towards the Muslims. No caution of whatsoever nature or restrain was exercised by the anchor, or the channel whilst airing the said show.”
Sikri imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the broadcaster and asked it to remove the videos of the show from its website and YouTube. Besides, the authority directed News18 to state on its ticker once every hour between 8 am on March 6 and 8 am on March 7, that the show had violated guidelines.
‘Police ka dandiya’
On the night of October 3, in Undhela village of Kheda, a group of Muslim men allegedly threw stones at a garba site near a mosque. The following day, five Muslims accused of being involved in the incident were dragged out in public, tied to a pole and beaten with a stick by the police as a crowd cheered.
The complainant, Indrajeet Ghorpade, told the NBDSA that News18 India celebrated the flogging of the men by describing it as “police ki dandiya” – a reference to a traditional Gujarati dance form in which sticks are used as a prop.
Ghorpade also stated that the broadcaster had repeatedly shown visuals glorifying the “police violence”.
“The channel also inaccurately and unfairly declared the alleged stone pelters as being guilty of the crime,” he submitted. “The complainant stated that by connecting stone pelting with jihad and by making negative generalised statements about young Muslim men, including accusing them of engaging in crimes or suspicious behaviour at garba events, the channel had tarnished the image of the Muslim community.”
While News18 India denied the allegations, Sikri said in his order that the channel had “targeted, vilified and castigated the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few miscreants”.
He also objected to the use of phrases such as “garba mei love jihad” and “what is your role in my garba?” in the ticker. “[This] gave a communal tilt to the broadcast and created an impression that men from a certain community were miscreants and/or criminals who were trying to harm/deceive women of another community,” the order said.
The authority imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the channel in this case and advised the broadcaster to avoid giving a “communal colour” while reporting on such cases. It also directed videos of the show to be removed from the channel’s website and YouTube.
Dakshina Kannada murders
The third order was against a show that Chopra hosted on July 28 on the murder of Bharatiya Janata Party youth wing leader Praveen Nettaru in Bellare village of Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka.
The complainant said that from July 19 to 28, three “communally motivated murders” had taken place in Dakshina Kannada but Chopra choose to highlight only Nettaru’s case. The two other victims were Muslims.
“During the programme, the anchor conducted a media trial and came to such conclusion despite the viability of the notion that a killing of a Muslim man in a hotbed off communal polarisation could have also inspired the death,” the complainant alleged. “However, developments that happened during the same period or in recent times that account for the role of the Hindu vigilante groups and state support being provided to them were not covered at all.”
News18’s coverage, the complainant contended, was framed primarily to discuss the role of Muslim extremism instead of covering religious polarisation that has been rising in India.
News18 told the NBDSA that it was not possible for news channels to cover all events.
The authority, in its decision, said it found that Chopra’s “agenda was clear” as he blamed one religion for the murders instead of a few miscreants.
“The broadcaster had violated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards relating to Neutrality and Impartiality and Clause 9 of the Specific Guidelines Covering Reportage pertaining to Racial and Religious Harmony,” Sikri observed.
The fourth case is about a debate titled “Ghazwa-e-Hind” that was aired on August 5. It was about reports sent to the Union home ministry by the police on the sharp rise in the Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh as well as in districts bordering Bangladesh and Nepal.
The programme used the hashtag “BorderParPanIslam” and showed visuals of Muslims in busy neighborhoods.
“In the impugned broadcast Muslims and Islam were misrepresented as a threat to our national security to instil panic in the minds of viewers,” the complainant stated. “In an effort to support the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Ac] and NRC [National Register of Citizens], rhetorical attempts were made to show Muslims in bad light and breed hatred towards them.”
The complaint also submitted to the NBDSA that Chopra had made objectionable statements about Muslims throughout the show, which lasted close to 55 minutes.
“The complainant stated that within 10 kilometres of the Bangladesh border, demographic changes had shown a decadal growth in the population of 31.45% between 2011 and 2021,” the order noted. “However, it was purposefully concealed during the broadcast that in four Assamese districts – Dhubri, Karimganj, Cachar, and South Salmara – the Hindu population had also increased at a rate of 32.9%, while the Muslim population did so at a rate of 29.6% only.”
News18 again denied that the show had demonised the community and insisted that it had only raised questions about whether it was normal to see such unprecedented increase in the population of Muslims in the border districts.
The NBDSA was not convinced and said the news channel did communalise the issue by giving the impression that Muslims were intruders and trying to change the demographic of the country by supporting illegal infiltrators.
It imposed a penalty of Rs 20,000 on the broadcaster and asked Chopra to not make communal statements while covering issues of national importance.