Ofcom has picked up on several episodes of Times Now’s nightly show ‘The Newshour’ from last summer, which it broadcast during the rising tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
At the time of Ofcom’s investigation between August and September 2016, this programme was presented by the journalist Arnab Goswami. Each edition typically featured two debates, each of approximately an hour’s duration. The show is telecast live from India at 16:30 each weekday and then repeated at 21:00 in UK. Goswami was accused of being biased towards India in the debates.
A complainant alerted Ofcom to the edition of ‘The Newshour’ broadcast on 1st August 2016, which the complainant considered to be biased. The first debate in this programme was referred to in a caption as: “DEBATE 1: OpenPakTerrorPush”. This debate focused on the march that had happened that day, organised by the Pakistani political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, where demonstrators had marched towards the border crossing with India at Wagah. The discussion focused on the degree to which terrorist attacks in India were a “home-grown” problem or had originated from Pakistan.
The debate featured contributors who were generally in favour of India taking a more robust diplomatic line against Pakistan. These speakers alleged that Pakistan gave refuge to several people described in the programme as “terrorists”. In particular, these contributors objected to the presence at the march of two controversial militants, Syed Sallahudin and Hafiz Saeed, who were alleged to have been involved in the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The other participants in the debate, who were all from India, were described in the programme by Arnab Goswami, the presenter, as being “doves” i.e. taking a conciliatory attitude towards Pakistan.
Ofcom viewed the 18 additional episodes of ‘The Newshour’ broadcast between 3rd August 2016 and 30th September 2016. All these programmes dealt with: the on-going tensions between India and Pakistan during August and September 2016; the Pakistani Government’s policy towards Kashmir; and alleged terrorist activities towards India.
In response to the findings, Times Now said that in ‘The Newshour’ it “always ensure[s] debates have a representative selection of guests who represent the varying key views, for and against, on the issue(s) being debated”. It added that, “We try and convey a high energy with these debates, to help the viewers understand the issues and for them to be able to make their own conclusions”.
Times Now said that ‘The Newshour’ series focused on: “the issue of terror and how it affected particularly regions like India & Balochistan, the growing concerns over Indo-Pak relations due to cross border terror and significantly the aftermath of the attacks that took place in Uri, India”; and the “key issues and concerns and most importantly voiced the questions that the people of India were putting forward”.
Times Global said the debates featured in ‘The Newshour’ programmes “were represented by as many factions as possible and multiple views were put forth by the panellists who participated on these shows”.
Times Global said that “With constant attacks being carried out on Indian soil, by terror forces from across the border, the pulse of the nation and sentiments in the minds of the Indian public and viewers were at a high pitch”. Therefore, it said that the programmes sought to concentrate on “what India should be focusing on at that juncture, in relation to Pakistan”. Further, such issues were “put out in the form of questions during these programmes and an
open debate was conducted amongst the participants”.
Times Global also argued that “It cannot be the purpose of our channel to exactly balance the views from Pakistan or other countries in a rigid fashion to ensure that equal voice is given to all parties. It added that, in its view, over the range of its output it had “observed the spirit of the ‘Due Impartiality’ rule. It said it strives “to bring in as much objectivity as possible in our broadcasts”. It added that the various editions of The Newshour “had strong representations with guests present from Pakistan i.e. spokespersons of the ruling party, former members of the military establishment, former diplomats, and journalists”.
Concerning the presenter, Arnab Goswami, The Licensee said that “we can understand some people’s views that the presenter’s role on these programmes seemed to be rather overwhelming and confrontational”. However, it added that “he is no longer associated with the channel and has moved out of the organization”. Times Global also said that the presenters who had replaced Mr Goswami had “a very different approach” and had been “bringing in a wide range of reactions and comments from the participants on the show, while ensuring that no personal views” are included in the programmes.
In conclusion, Times Global said that as a result of the Ofcom investigation, it had “conducted extensive discussions with the current team, specifically drawing attention to Ofcom Rules and Guidance” It added that it had also taken steps to “conduct training programmes” for its news teams and it stated its belief that “our coverage on sensitive issues such as these should always be undertaken keeping in mind the pertinent rules and guidance”.
Ofcom said that ‘The Newshour’ content needs to be “viewed in perspective and particularly in the overall context of our coverage over the last few months, primarily reflecting the public debate and political discussions on Pakistan. The relevant broadcasts complained about were therefore a continuation of the overall coverage of the channel, which at this time primarily focused on the terror attacks in India and India’s position on the same”. However, in order to comply with Rule 5.5, alternative viewpoints had to be reflected, as appropriate in programme or series of programmes taken as a whole. Therefore, a television broadcaster cannot rely on its coverage over its schedule as a whole as evidence of how it may have reflected alternative views on a particular matter.
Ofcom concluded that in reaching its decision, it took into account that Times Now told us that the presenter “…is no longer associated with the channel and has moved out of the organization”. Times Global also said that the presenters who had replaced Mr Goswami had “a very different approach” and had been “bringing in a wide range of reactions and comments from the participants on the show, while ensuring that no personal views” are included in the programmes. In addition, the channel said, as a result of the Ofcom investigation, Times Global had “conducted extensive discussions with the current team, specifically drawing attention to Ofcom Rules and Guidance”. It had also taken steps to “conduct training programmes” for its news teams
However, for all the reasons above, Ofcom considered that the presenter used the advantage of his regular appearances in the 19 programmes in this case to promote his views in a way that compromised the requirement for due impartiality.