The Hindi news channel has been asked to apologise for a programme they aired in 2016 where they referred to various people, including Raza, as members of the ‘Afzal Premi Gang’.
Based on a complaint filed by scientist and poet Gauhar Raza in 2016, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) has asked Zee News to publish an apology on September 8 at 9 pm on their channel. Zee News had called Raza a member of the ‘Afzal Premi Gang’, for reciting poems at an event – Shankar Shaad Mushaira. The NBSA has also asked them to pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh. This is the highest punishment the NBSA can give to a channel.
Gauhar’s complaint was a joint complaint – the others with him include eminent artists Ashok Vajpeyi, Shubha Mudgal, Sharmila Tagore and Dr. Syeda Hameed. Lawyer Vrinda Grover argued on Raza and the other complainants’ behalves.
Zee News has been told to telecast their apology in Hindi in a large font size, on full screen display, in a clearly audible voice and with slow speed. NBSA has given Zee News one week to pay their fine of Rs 1 lakh. They have also been directed to take down videos of the programme hosted on their website or on other sites.
Between March 9, 2016, and March 12, 2016, Zee News had repeatedly telecast a programme titled ‘Afzal Premi Gang ka Mushaira’ and ‘Poetry Night on the Love for Afzal Guru Gang.’ The programme showed Raza reciting three of his poems at the 51st Annual Shankar Shad Mushaira event. This is a regular event, held since 1954, with the aim of fostering India-Pakistan relations through cultural exchange. Raza’s poems were about theatre activist Safdar Hashmi and about the murder of two journalists in Iraq in 2010.
Zee’s programme had interspersed clips of Raza’s poetry recitation with clips of alleged slogans raised against India at an event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in February 2016. The programme had also used various posters of Afzal Guru. It used labels such as ‘Afzal Guru Gang’ and ‘Desh Virodhi Shayar’.
According to the complainants, Zee News ran lines that translated to, “Meet the poets who support traitors of the nation”, “How can anti-national accused be a hero”, “There is a new gang supporting JNU’s anti-nationals” and “This is a gang which is showing solidarity with the mindset that wants to break the nation into pieces”.
In Zee News’ response, they said that they filmed the mushaira event in order to show that “no restraint had been placed on the freedom of speech and expression, as has been continually alleged by some news channels and certain individuals” and that the programme “was at pains” to repeatedly mention that Pakistani poets were also present at this event. Zee News says that they too have the freedom of speech and expression in addition to having “editorial direction”.
They say they had not taken sides but accurately reported the events. “Highlighting the fact that anti-national elements were being made martyrs and being celebrated by a prominent public figure at a public event does not constitute taking a side,” said the Zee News’ complaint. They also said that those “making anti-national statements” should be brought to justice and Raza should have abstained from supporting “anti-national activities”.
According to Raza’s complaint, the reporters and editors of the programme made “false, motivated, defamatory, derogatory allegations against him and the persons assembled at the function.” He called this a breach of the code and ethics of journalism and said the programme was also “with the obvious motive of incident hatred and ill-well against him and endanger him and his family”.
Raza said the programme made defamatory comments and falsely said that Raza had made statements in support of Afzal Guru. He also told the NBSA that since the programme, he had been receiving several intimidating messages, emails and social media comments. Raza had asked for Rs 1 crore to be paid to him as damages for the harm caused to his reputation.
What the NBSA found
The NBSA examined both these responses as well as the footage of the programme and conducted hearings of both parties. They then concluded that Zee News had breached the guidelines on “accuracy, impartiality, neutrality, fairness, objectivity and privacy”. They also felt that Zee News’ entire programme was intended to sensationalise an issue with bias and that it distorted and manipulated facts to “masquerade as news”.
Zee News has been directed to telecast this text in its apology: “Zee News regrets the taglines used and views expressed during the broadcast of the programme/news report under the caption ‘Afzal Premi Ganga ka Mushaira’ on 9.3.2016 to 12.3.206, reporting upon the poetry recital by Prof. Gauhar Raza on 5.3.2016 at the annual Shankar Shad (Indo-Pak) mushaira at New Delhi. Zee News also regrets the description of Prof. Gauhar Raza and the attendees/participants at the events, as ‘Afzal Premi Gang.'”