The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), India’s self-regulatory authority for television news, has ordered Zee News to pay a fine and apologise to scientist and poet Gauhar Raza for a show broadcast last year in which the channel alleged that he was an admirer of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack case.
The channel has been ordered to broadcast at 9 pm on September 8 a slow, full-screen scroll in large font, apologising to Raza and regretting the taglines used and views expressed on the show. The NBSA also asked Zee News to pay Rs 1 lakh fine to NBA.
Calling its show “true and factually correct”, the channel said that it would be unfair to be punished for “speaking the truth”.
Zee News had taken visuals of Raza reciting poems at a mushaira and had called the programme “Afzal premi gang ka mushaira (a poetry symposium of a gang of Afzal Guru admirers)”. The channel had broadcast the show multiple times starting March 9, 2016. Calling Raza “desh-virodhi shaayar (anti-national poet)” as well, it interspersed visuals from the mushaira with slogans that were allegedly raised at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in February last year.
Raza had complained that the content of the show was “highly defamatory and derogatory”, and it had endangered his life.
Denying breach of guidelines, Zee News editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary told The Sunday Express that the company has received NBSA’s August 31 order, and submits that “we follow all journalistic principles and guidelines issued by NBA while telecast of news stories”. He said the company is “contemplating legal remedies available, including challenging the order”.
Stating that he is “very happy” with the “strong and very good judgment”, Raza said mushairas and kavi sammelans have always questioned power, and the Zee News show was an attack on that culture. “This culture of silencing people is very bad for the country,” he said.
The NBSA order said members unanimously agreed that the “entire programme was intended to sensationalise the issue… facts were distorted and manipulated to masquerade as news.” It noted that Zee News had “breached the guidelines relating to accuracy, impartiality, neutrality…”
In his complaint filed on April 4, 2016, Raza mentioned that of three poems he recited at the mushaira, one was about playwright, director and street theatre exponent Safdar Hashmi’s murder; and another was about the death of two Iraqi journalists. Calling the content “malicious, biased, regressive, knowingly inaccurate, hurtful, misleading” Raza complained that the show went against multiple guidelines of the NBSA and and its parent body, News Broadcasters Association”.
Zee News in its defence said that its show was within the realm of fair comment, and that aim of the programme was to show that “no restraint has been placed on the freedom of speech and expression”, as some sections “continually alleged”. The channel also denied violating any NBA or NBSA guideline.