The Office of Communications (Ofcom), the regulator of communication services in the United Kingdom, has imposed a fine of £20,000 on Worldview Media Network Limited which owns the license to operate Arnab Goswami’s Republic Bharat in the country.
It concluded that the programme was in breach of Rules 2.3 (offensive and discriminatory language), 3.2 (hate speech) and 3.3 (abusive and derogatory treatment of individuals, religions or communities) of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
The order held that the discussion “Poochta Hai Bharat” telecast by the channel on September 6, 2019, breached broadcasting conditions by promoting “hatred and intolerance” against a group of individuals.
The breach decision reads: “an episode of the programme Poochta Hai Bharat contained 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.”
The show featured a debate between the host, Arnab Goswami, and the guests that comprised three Indian and three Pakistani’s, relating to India’s attempt to send the spacecraft Chandrayaan 2 on its mission to the moon.
Ofcom critically observed, “We considered that the overall tone of the discussion was provocative, comparing Pakistanis to donkeys and monkeys. We also noted that Pakistani contributors were repeatedly interrupted and afforded little time to make points which may potentially have provided challenge or context.”
Noting that terrorism is a sensitive topic, Ofcom further observed that the tone and tenor of the show was biased and hate filled. The order held, “The programme also referred to Pakistani people as “terrorists” (even children), “beggars”, “thieves”, “backward”, likened them to donkeys and referred to them as “Paki”, a racist term that is highly offensive and unacceptable to a UK audience.
The Licensee (Worldwide Media Network) argued that the use of the term “Paki” was not intended to be offensive, nor would be interpreted as such particularly when used in the sub-continent. In Ofcom’s view, these negative descriptions constituted uncontextualised abuse and derogatory treatment of Pakistani people on the ground of their nationality in breach of Rule 3.3.” (abusive or derogatory treatment of individuals)
Ofcom expressed that it was legitimate to discuss Indo-Pak relations but the show promoted brazen hate and intolerance against Pakistan. “We did not accept the Licensee’s characterisation of the programme as a whole. We considered it included repeated instances of hate speech and abusive or derogatory treatment. It was therefore our Decision that this content met Ofcom’s definition of “hate speech” and that Rule 3.2 was breached.”
The Ofcom Broadcasting Code defines hate speech as all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, gender, gender reassignment, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Taking serious cognisance of the content of the show, the order further noted, “The programme contained statements which amounted to hate speech against, and was abusive and derogatory about, Pakistani people on the basis of their nationality. Under the Equality Act 2010, race is a protected characteristic, and race includes both nationality and ethnic or national origins. These statements would potentially be harmful and highly offensive to any person who did not share the sentiment being expressed by the presenter and his Indian guests. In Ofcom’s view, the potentially harmful and offensive nature of the content was compounded by the political context in which the episode of Poochta Hai Bharat was broadcast.”
The UK regulator dismissed the licensee’s arguments by saying that they demonstrated a concerning lack of understanding of what constitutes hate speech for the purposes of the Code. Ofcom, at the time of the broadcast, had already notified Worldview Network by a telephone call and by an email on August 21, 2019, about Ofcom receiving a number of complaints about the service including in relation to “highly pejorative references to members of the Pakistani community (e.g., continually referring to them as filthy)”. Ofcom asked the Licensee’s to comply with its obligation under the Code. It was therefore their view that appropriate steps were not taken by the Licensee to prevent this contravention.
As the material aired posed “a risk of harm to the Pakistani community in the UK, and to good relations particularly between members of the UK’s Indian and Pakistani communities”, Ofcom has directed Worldwide Media Network to air a public apology for the program and not to repeat the program.
Further, to establish some degree of deterrence, Ofcom imposed an “appropriate and proportionate sanction of £20,000.”
The Ofcom order dated December 22 may be read here: