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New Delhi: The National Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has found that debates on the February 2020 Delhi riots conducted by two Times Now anchors – Rahul Shivshankar and Padmaja Joshi – were not conducted in an “impartial and objective manner”. Given that, the anchors had “violated the Fundamental Principles as enumerated in the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and various Guidelines issued by NBDSA”, the authority found.
In an order dated November 19, 2021, NBDSA chairperson Justice (retired) A.K. Sikri directed the channel to take down videos of the offending channel from YouTube and the channel.
This order was based on complaints by one Utkarsh Mishra, pertaining to an India Upfront episode anchored by Shivshankar on September 14, 2020 and an India Upfront episode anchored by Joshi on September 23, 2020. Both these episodes of Times Now’s primetime show violated multiple guidelines issued by the NBDSA, the complainant said.
In particular, Mishra’s complaint against Shivshankar said that he was selectively portraying observations of the courts and the police to make it seem like anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protestors were responsible for the communal violence. “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 a sustained campaign to challenge a position, without intimating to the viewers what that position is in its entirety or allowing panellists to explain the same,” the order quotes Mishra’s complaint as saying.
The channel made it a point not to highlight certain judicial observations that questioned the police’s claims and investigations, Mishra continued, and instead only reported “unverified allegations of the Delhi Police under UAPA [the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]”. The channel’s internal security editor, the complaint said, chose to valorise the Delhi Police’s role in the entire matter even though it has been questioned even by the judiciary.
In particular, Mishra has said, Shivshankar’s show referred to a “secret meeting” of Leftists – when in fact, that meeting was a public webinar that was broadcast through a Facebook Live, and could be viewed by anyone.
With respect to Joshi, Mishra’s complaint said that the anchor “passed judgment on the strength of the witness testimonies, WhatsApp chats contexts, attempted to discredit the anti CAA protestors, by using sub judice issues as the bases for her accusations, thereby running a media trial to hinder one side of a controversial issue”.
“A large number of the anchor’s conversations were with a BJP spokesperson, who has in the past spread misinformation on the channel and been encouraged by the anchor,” the complaint also noted.
The anchor worked with the assumption that peaceful anti-CAA protestors were responsible for the Delhi riots, Mishra alleged, even though “in fact the quantum of Muslim casualties was higher than the rest”. In addition, while Joshi gave ample time to speak to right-wing panellists, the complainant noted that she “continuously interrupted and misconstrued” the other panellist.
In its response to the complaints, Times Now denied all of Mishra’s allegations. Instead, the channel questioned Mishra’s motives, saying, “…the complainant has been making unnecessary and frivolous complaints repeatedly against the same anchors/journalists…in a whimsical manner”. “…the broadcaster has reason to believe that all the past complaints including the aforesaid under reply were motivated and were deliberately being filed, targeting the anchors with certain agenda and vested interest,” Times Now continued, according to the NBDSA order.
The Authority, however, does not seem to have bought the channel’s argument.