Panjab Radio has been rapped by Ofcom for broadcasting material deemed offensive in August 2018.
The Shamsher Singh Rai Programme was an occasional show on the station, with around four editions per month. The programme focused on Punjabi poetry and featured live calls from listeners expressing their feelings through poetry.
A listener complained to Ofcom that this programme had the potential to incite crime. Ofcom commissioned a translation of the programme, which was used for the purposes of this investigation.
In its initial written representations to Ofcom, Panjab Radio said it takes compliance “extremely seriously” and emphasised that it had a good compliance history, having never been found in breach of the Code. It added, it does not tolerate any content that would be viewed as extreme or could be interpreted as material likely to incite violence or the commission of crime.
Panjab Radio explained that the presenter Shamsher Singh Rai had volunteered at the station for 18 years and typically presented around eight hours of programming each month. It said that Mr Rai was not a religious scholar, preacher or an authority on religious matters and had not previously discussed religious issues on air. The Licensee said that it was not aware of Mr Rai expressing any extreme or fundamentalist views either privately or publicly. Panjab Radio said that the Shamsher Singh Rai Programme was essentially a poetry call-in show which was not expected to cover current affairs or religious matters and suggested that his comments about festivities in gurdwaras were best described as an “aberration”. It said it had no reason up to this point to believe that he might air anything problematic and it was extremely surprised and shocked by the comments.
Panjab Radio accepted that some of the content should not have been broadcast and was likely to be seen as inflammatory. It said that Panjab Radio’s mission was “to bring the Panjabi and Asian community together” and it wanted to apologise unreservedly to all its listeners and Ofcom. Panjab Radio said that Mr Rai was extremely apologetic and accepted that what he said was totally inappropriate and should not have been aired.
Action taken by Panjab Radio
Panjab Radio said that since the broadcast, it had taken the following actions:
• Mr Rai had been taken off air, removed from Panjab Radio’s website list of presenters and
would not be returning to the station;
• entry locks to the building and studio had been changed and staff had been instructed not to permit Mr Rai entry into the premises;
• “with some limited exceptions”, telephone call-ins had been suspended;
• all presenters had been re-issued with the Code and had had individual meetings with the
Managing Editor to ensure they understood its requirements. They were also asked to sign a new side-contract confirming this and their obligations as a presenter;
• extra compliance training for all staff was being implemented;
• the Managing Editor of the station had taken over responsibility for compliance issues and the station was sourcing an external compliance expert to provide further training;
• pre-broadcast checks would be made with presenters to ensure the editorial content of their programmes was compliant; and,
• the matter was to be discussed at board level.
Panjab Radio also said that it had broadcast an apology on 17th and 18th September 2018, after the news at 22:00, in order to capture the same audience who was likely to have heard Mr Rai’s programme on 24 August 2018 at 22:00. The apology, broadcast in Punjabi, said: “Now, an apology from us at Panjab Radio. Last month, on the 24 August, one of our former presenters, Shamsher Singh Rai, talked about girls holding festivals within the confines of a gurdwara in Sangroor district. Shamsher Singh Rai spoke in terms that were totally unacceptable and used intolerant and inflammatory language. We would like to apologise – unreservedly – for this and assure listeners that Panjab Radio do not, in any way, share or endorse such views of Shamsher Singh Rai. Panjab Radio believe in peace and tolerance and our mission is to unite and not to divide the Asian community. Once again an apology from Panjab Radio and its entire team for this mistake made by Shamsher Singh Rai.”
Panjab Radio stating that it did not wish to diminish what the presenter had said, questioned whether the material would have “literally” encouraged or incited someone to commit a crime. It said, “The [material] revolved around events in Panjab, India. [It] did not concern matters in the UK and [it] was not available in India”. It recognised that the presenter’s words were “likely to be seen as inflammatory”. However, it said that Ofcom had not given weight to the time of broadcast and the likely size of the audience, which it said would have been extremely small. The Licensee said these were important contextual factors in considering the potential harm that may arise from the content and any proposal to sanction. It argued that the fact that Ofcom’s Preliminary View contained a proposed finding that the breaches had been committed and that they were serious meant that
Ofcom had closed its mind to the possibility that there was no breach. It submitted that delays to the progress of the investigation had hampered its ability to defend itself, in that it had had to spend time getting up to speed on the issues again between responding to Ofcom’s request for comments and making its representations on Ofcom’s Preliminary View.
In addition to the above point about the time of broadcast and the likely size of the audience, Panjab Radio said that it was “surprised” and “perplexed” that Ofcom was minded to consider the imposition of a statutory sanction. Panjab Radio said that it had not sought to defend the “problematic” material, been fully transparent with Ofcom and taken “swift action” (see above). It added that it had “recognised the issues” and that it had broadcast two apologies targeted at the same audience as the original broadcast. It said these actions were “extremely important in mitigating any potential sanction”. It added that given its “impeccable compliance record” Ofcom risked being disproportionate and intervening needlessly. It indicated that delays to the progress of the investigation had had a significant chilling effect on its editorial output and had impacted on the business. It argued that the fact that Ofcom’s Preliminary View contained a proposed finding that the breaches had been committed and that Ofcom would consider a statutory sanction meant that Ofcom had closed its mind in relation to whether or not it would impose a statutory sanction.
Ofcom concluded that Panjab Radio has breached Rules 3.1 and 2.3. It has also put the station on
notice that Ofcom will consider these breaches for the imposition of a statutory sanction.