New Delhi: British TV regulatory authority Ofcom has imposed a £20,000 fine on Republic Bharat, Republic TV’s Hindi channel, for hate speech against Pakistani people in a programme broadcast last year.
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
In a detailed note on its decision, 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.
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”)”.
Worldview Media Network Limited, the licensee which airs Republic Bharat in the UK, will also need to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings and is barred from repeating the programme in the UK.
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 says.
From the discussion which was often chaotic enough to flummox the transcriber, Ofcom gleaned that “statements were made which implied not just that there are threats to Indian interests and citizens from particular people and groups inside Pakistan, but that all Pakistanis represent a terrorist threat to Indians and others.”
The statements made in the show by guests, and including the host Goswami, said Ofcom,
“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”.”
The content “spread, incited, promoted and justified such intolerance towards Pakistani people among viewers,” found the body. As such, it said, the show violated three rules of its Broadcasting Code.
Rule 3.2: “Material which contains hate speech must not be included in television… programmes… except where it is justified by the context”.
Rule 3.3: “Material which contains abusive or derogatory treatment of individuals, groups, religions or communities, must not be included in television… services… except where it is justified by the context”.
Rule 2.3: “In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context… Such material may include […] offensive language, […] discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of […] religion or belief […]). Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.”
The Code does not prohibit criticism of any country or citizens of that country, Ofcom notes, adding that “such criticism must not spill over into pejorative abuse.”
‘Pakistan has become a word of abuse in the world’
Ofcom’s observations on the show carry detailed transcripts. The body said it had commissioned a translation of the Hindi discussion and has included parts where Republic TV has disagreed with the translated versions.
Republic has told Ofcom, by way of a response to the initial notice in February, that while theirs was an “emotionally charged” discussion, the programme “did not promote terrorism or hatred and it certainly did not promote or justify hatred in any way”.
However, a close look at the transcript offers a clear idea of the register of speech that transcends bias and nestles firmly in the rhetoric of abuse.
One of the excerpts singled out by Ofcom is Major Gaurav Arya’s when he says:
“Arnab, that the word Pakistan has become a word of abuse in the world… This word has become an abuse. When they carry a green passport, when they carry a green passport to the airport, they have to go through a strip-search. Their previous
prime minister, he was strip-searched by the Americans. Arnab, this is the creditability of the Pakistani passport…Today, the word Pakistani, the word Pakistani, Arnab, it is being used as a word of abuse in the whole world. And they should know that the word Pakistani does not belong to a community or a nation only. It is an abuse now…People use the word Paki, the word Paki is an abuse, if you go anywhere in America, or if you will go to Europe, when you use the word, it is an abuse. It has become an abuse. They do not know.”
To this, Ofcom notes, Republic sought to say that the use of “Paki” during the programme was not intended as an insult but as a “casual reference to the nationality of Pakistan”. The channel also sought to impress that it was an inoffensive term and that the “use of the term had been reclaimed by Pakistani people” – a version Ofcom disagreed with.
Republic also told Ofcom that some of the words it was interpreting as hate speech were “figures of speech not intended to be taken literally, which Asian viewers would have understood clearly”.
Among them, ostensibly is a line by Prem Shukla, comparing Pakistanis with donkeys.
“Look Arnab, if we discuss science with a donkey, what else will a donkey do than give you a double kick?… Pakistan is a country of donkeys, what do they have to do with space science?
The day’s discussion, noticeably took a clear turn from India’s space achievement – which the Pakistani guests repeatedly sought to highlight – and veered into open threat of war with Pakistan.
For instance, General Sinha said:
“What? You are an artificial lion. Oh you useless people. Beggars. Oh beggars, oh beggars. We will douse you with 1.25kg, .75kg-, with two inches. PoK, PoK, we are coming to the PoK. We are coming to the Gilgit, Baltistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa…We are going to come, be ready. People in your country are shivering with fear that the Indian army may come, the Indian army may come. We will barge inside your home in Baluchistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Karachi, in your area, in Multan, in Rawalpindi and kill you. From Lahore, from Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan when we will have control.”
In its order, Ofcom has also listed out examples of other financial penalties it has imposed for breaches in the Code. These include fines imposed on religious-oriented programmes (Christian and Islamic) that spread hate against homosexuals and Jewish people.
Two of those cases cited by Ofcom were related to Peace TV, the broadcasting channel of Malaysia-based preacher Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India.
In the first case, Peace TV had stated that Islamic teachings said that the only acceptable Islamic punishment for leaving the fold should be death. Ofcom had described it as “uncontextualised hate speech”, but did not impose a statutory sanction as the channel had taken steps to comply with the Code.
Ofcom imposed a fine of £100,000 on Peace TV for another programme where an imam made a “sustained attack on homosexuality that was not presented with any reference to religious scripture and was expressed in a way which was gratuitously and repeatedly abusive”.
Incidentally, the UK licensee of Republic Bharat had argued that its case was “factually analogous” to the first case of breach by Peace TV and should be treated in that manner. However, Ofcom did not agree and asserted that “size and turnover is a relevant factor when considering penalty”.
This was not the first time that Ofcom had ruled on programmes of Republic Bharat.
In January this year, the regulatory body decided that the “graphic footage” of a traffic accident in Gorakhpur had violated the Broadcasting Code’s guidelines about usage of violent material that could impact children.
A month later, the channel had been 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 had 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.
“In this case, we considered that the uncontextualised hate speech and abusive and derogatory treatment of groups and communities was serious. We are putting the Licensee on notice that we are minded to consider these breaches for the imposition of a statutory sanction”.
Three months later, Ofcom was back to accusing Republic Bharat of breaching the Code. In the ruling, Ofcom observed, “We were also concerned that the presenter did not seek to challenge or contextualise any of the critical statements made by the Indian guests. Instead he encouraged these panellists and endorsed their views. We considered this compounded the impact of their and his own abusive and derogatory statements during the programme”.
However, it did not mention any sanction in this order.