Hindi news channel Republic Bharat’s licensee in the United Kingdom, Worldview Media Network Limited, has been fined £20,000 by OfCom (Office of Communications, a UK Media Regulator) for airing a live show featuring offensive language, hate speech, abusive and derogatory speech. Apart from the financial penalty, the licensee has been directed to not repeat the programme, and to broadcast a statement of OfCom’s findings on a date and form determined by OfCom.
In an episode of the programme Poochta Hai Bharat, the host Arnab Goswami and some of the guests on the debate panel made comments that amounted to “hate speech against Pakistani people, and derogatory and abusive treatment of Pakistani people.”
The programme was aired on September 6, 2019. This episode featured a debate on India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon. The debate panel included 3 Indians and 3 Pakistanis, apart from the host Arnab Goswami. OfCom found that the content was “potentially offensive and was not sufficiently justified by the context.”
Some of the key points based on which OfCom has arrived at its decision is mentioned below (reproduced from its order):
- In the programme, the presenter and some of his guests 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”. In the context of these criticisms, the presenter, addressing Pakistan and/or Pakistani people, said: “We make scientists, you make terrorists”.
- We considered these statements to be expressions of hatred based on intolerance of Pakistani people based on their nationality alone, and that the broadcast of these statements spread, incited, promoted and justified such intolerance towards Pakistani people among viewers.
- A third guest, General Sinha said, “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. 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”.
- These statements, made by a retired Major General from the Indian Army, which clearly threatened that the Indian military would attack Pakistani civilians in their homes, were an expression of hatred and desire to kill by a figure of authority. In our view the broadcast of these statements also promoted hatred and intolerance towards Pakistani people.
- 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.
- 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.
Arguments by the licensee:
Some of the arguments put forth by the licensee has been reproduced below:
- The Licensee suggested that these statements were “figures of speech not intended to be taken literally, which Asian viewers would have understood clearly”.
- The Licensee argued that these statements were justified by reference to the political context of heightened tension between India and Pakistan at the time of broadcast, that the programme as a whole was “calling for peace and unity and uplift of the entire region regardless of nationality”, and that the discussion was balanced by the inclusion of some more conciliatory statements in the programme and the participation of guests from both India and Pakistan.
- The Licensee 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.
P.S. Based on the preliminary findings of OfCom, Republic Bharat’s licensee had broadcast an apology (both in Hindi and English) in the channel 280 times between February 26, 2020 and April 9, 2020. The apology read, “The communications regulator, the Office of Communications, post-viewing the September 6, 2019 episode of Poochta Hai Bharat, found out some offensive words were used in that program which may have disturbed the viewers. Republic Media Network apologizes if those words hurt any religion or particular person.”