The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has ruled that a debate on Times Now, where the channel had assigned dubious motives to CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad’s visit to Shaheen Bagh, was “devoid of objectivity”. It issued a warning to the channel, and also ordered it to take down the video from its website, Youtube and any other links.
CJP had moved NBDSA, then called NBSA (News Broadcasting Standards Authority), in May 2020, complaining about two programs broadcast on Times Now dated February 19, 2020 (related to Setalvad’s visit to Shaheen Bagh) and March 9, 2020 (the show where she was vilified further). Advocates Aparna Bhat and Karishma Maria appeared for Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).
Setalvad, a respected journalist and human rights defender had visited Shaheen Bagh, where hundreds of women from the minority community and their allies had held a landmark peaceful protest, demanding a repeal of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Times Now, on their show, called her a “Modi baiter”, despite Setalvad having made no statements against the Prime Minister. Setalvad was also misquoted as objecting to the conduct of the Census. Moreover, she was accused of “tutoring” Shaheen Bagh protesters.
What does the NBDSA order say?
In connection with the 37-minute debate, the NBDSA in its order dated November 15, 2021, concluded that “the programme referred to in the complaint was devoid of objectivity.” It elaborated, “In order to maintain objectivity, an anchor can conduct a debate, however, if he/she must reach a conclusion, it has to be only at the end of the programme, based on discussions held amongst the panelists.” It added, “The anchor must avoid pushing any agenda during the debate.”
However, this was clearly not the case with the debate where the channel itself engaged in making vile allegations against Setalvad. The NBDSA order went on to say, “Further, the person being reported on should either be made part of the debate, or his/her views should be reported.”
The NBDSA order further says that “the broadcaster had conducted a 37-minute debate on the mere presence of Ms. Setalvad at Shaheen Bagh and had selectively used the contents of her statement when she visited the Shaheen Bagh protest site to create a particular narrative which was not the main focus of her message, that can be seen once the full text of her speech is examined.”
The order went on to say, “In this context, using bold headlines and attributing her to be ‘Modi Baiter’ seems out of context and doesn’t appear to be an objective assessment of her speech, lacks neutrality and accuracy and also violeate guidelines which require that facts should be clearly distinguishable from, and not mixed up with opinion, anaylysis and comment.”
The NBDSA issued a warning to Times Now and advised them to avoid such programmes/debates in future. It further ordered that “the videos of the said broadcast, if still available on the website of the channels, or Youtube, or any other links, should be removed immediately, and the same should be confirmed to NBDSA in writing within seven days.”
The entire order may be read here:
Brief background of the case
It is noteworthy, that CJP had originally complained to the broadcaster directly, drawing attention to the fact that Setalvad had clearly said, “We do not want census work to stop, but our demand is that the census work should not begin until NPR is withdrawn.” On April 30, 2020 Times Now responded by dubbing the allegations made by CJP as “false, frivolous and vexatious” and rejected them outright. They also challenge the locus standi of the Citizens for Justice and Peace in the present complaint as the news articles mentioned in the complaint have no reference to the organisation or Ms. Setalvad’s role therein. They even tried to justify the use of the term ‘Modi Baiter’ in their reportage.
Undeterred, CJP then filed a rejoinder on May 5 refusing to accept Times Now’s denial of its allegations. CJP’s rejoinder pointed out another instance in 2017 when Setalvad had been dubbed ‘Modi Baiter’ in a report on the Ayodhya Ram temple just because she was one of the many interveners in the Ayodhya land dispute case in the Supreme Court.
But on May 26, 2020 Times Now once again rejected CJP’s claims that the channel was engaging in a willful campaign of vilification against Teesta Setalvad. But the channel agreed to update both news reports (February 19, 2020 and March 9, 2020) to “inform viewers of Ms. Setalvad’s denial of the contentions raised in the said news reports.”
On October 28, 2020, the NBSA informed Times Now news channel, via an official email, to be present for a hearing on November 26, 2020, to look into allegations of a vilification campaign against journalist and activist Teesta Setalvad.
Now, almost a year later, the NBDSA has ensured that Teesta Setalvad and CJP have got justice, and the channel in question has been advised to mend its ways.