Ofcom slaps Panjab Radio with £30k fine

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UK media regulator, Ofcom has slapped Panjab Radio with a fine of £30,000 for broadcasting material that was likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder.

In a statement by Ofcom, it said that a programme broadcast on 24th August 2018 at 22:00 by Shamsher Singh Rai, which focused on Punjabi poetry and live calls from listeners, broke Ofcom’s rules and regulations.

During this programme, the presenter advocated, justified and supported violent retributive action against those he considered to have “shown disrespect towards Sikh places of worship”. He did this “without challenge or other sufficient contextual justification”.

Ofcom’s Breach Decision found that the presenter’s comments in an edition of the Shamsher Singh Rai Programme amounted to a direct call to action to members of the Sikh community to carry out violent action against people he considered to be disrespecting the Sikh faith.

The presenter spoke about an event that had taken place during a festival being celebrated in a Punjabi village when girls had danced and sung folk songs in the complex of a Gurdwara whilst others looked on. The presenter said that this breached the Sikh code of conduct and was disrespectful of Guru Granth Sahib. He said that those involved should be ashamed and should have known better but blamed the events on “our enemy”, who he said was playing “tricks” on the Sikhs and “testing our patience”. The presenter spoke of the need to take action against those who disrespect the Sikh place of worship and referred to attacks on Muslim cattle farmers which had been carried out by members of the Hindu community.

Ofcom was concerned that the presenter suggested that Sikhs needed to take similar action (“We also have to do such things. Only then disrespect of Guru Granth Sahib will be stopped”). He called for people not to go to the police about such matters, but to take the law into their own hands by carrying out violent attacks against people he considered to have acted in a sacrilegious way. We were particularly concerned that the presenter referred to killing or beheading such people (“we have to take their heads off”) and made repeated comments that referred to or justified taking violent action.

Panjab Radio said that the substantial delay by Ofcom had caused Panjab Radio significant and material harm. It restated that it had an enormous chilling effect on all its output and had left it “in limbo”. It said it became risk averse and reduced its range and variety of output. It added that its presenters were all extremely nervous about broadcasting content. It stated that it resulted in uncertainty about the viability of the radio station which had “weighed heavily” on its Director. It added that it “appreciate[d] that there were some other programmes that Ofcom wished to assess and content needed to be translated, [but, nevertheless,] there ha[d] been an unreasonable amount of time taken on this case”.

Panjab Radio stated that it was a small community focused station aimed at the Sikh diaspora living in the UK. It said it had never made any money, but, broadcasting in Punjabi, it provided an important public service to an under-served ethnic minority community. It said that during the Coronavirus pandemic it was “literally a lifeline” for this community, providing it with safety and health advice, government information and support. It added that it had also featured in its programming a range of professionals and experts to answer listeners’ questions and advise on financial, religious and health matters. Without this service it said “many of the Punjabi community would have not had this vital information”. It said this service, “the only nationally available Punjabi radio station in the UK”, would be placed in significant jeopardy by Ofcom’s approach.

Panjab Radio said the proposed fine was not appropriate and proportionate. It added that such a fine would essentially take away its licence by putting it out of business, without following due process or complying with the legal safeguards for such an action.

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