One of the leading Hindi news broadcasters, Republic Bharat, has been rapped by Ofcom in the UK for an episode of ‘The Debate’ fronted by Arnab Goswami on 22nd October 2019.
Ofcom received a complaint that the programme’s presenter was abusive towards the Pakistani guests contributing to the show and the wider Pakistani community.
The programme took place in the context of a recent military strike on alleged terror camps in Pakistan by the Indian Army. It focused on India’s military capabilities in comparison to Pakistan’s, the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, and Pakistan’s alleged involvement in terrorist activities against Indian targets. Guest contributors were invited to participate in the debate.
The licence holder of Republic Bharat, Worldview Media Network responded to Ofcom. It said that the programme “aimed to call out terror operations in Pakistan and confront panellists from the region” on this issue. The licensee referred to recent events which it said provided the “background to the debate and the political context and developments in India-Pakistan relations which formed the basis of much of the discussion”.
Worldview argued that the use of the word “Pakis” during the programme was not intended as an insult but as a “casual reference to the nationality of Pakistan”. It said that the word “Pakis” was also used by the presenter “as an abbreviation of ‘Pakistani’” and that the two words were used interchangeably throughout the programme. It further argued that the Pakistani guests did not object to the use of the word “Pakis” during the programme, which “confirms the fact that the reference was considered common parlance” and that viewers would have interpreted the word “as a casual, non-derogatory reference to Pakistanis”. It cited several sources, including a tweet from the Chief of Awami Muslim league and several articles by Pakistani media outlets, which it said provided examples of the common use of the word “Paki” as an inoffensive word and that its use had been reclaimed by Pakistani people.
It added that it had taken into account guidance issued by Ofcom regarding due impartiality and Arnab Goswami’s treatment of viewpoints with which he does not agree. In light of this, it said it had removed live broadcasts of Arnab Goswami’s current affairs programmes from its schedule in order “to review and edit them in line with the guidance provided”. It added that this was evidence of its efforts to “adapt our scheduling and editing processes to improve compliance whilst striving to engage our viewers in the fast-moving news agenda concerning India and its geo-political situation”.
Ofcom took into account the Licensee’s representations that it had taken steps to improve its compliance procedures since Ofcom brought the content to its attention. Ofcom said it was concerned that the Licensee appeared to have misunderstood the compliance issues upon receiving its Preliminary View.
Given the strength of the material and Ofcom’s assessment of the relevant contextual factors, in Ofcom’s view the channel’s audience was unlikely to have expected to view content of this type broadcast without sufficient contextual justification or appropriate information to avoid or minimise the level of potential offence.
Ofcom found Republic Bharat in breach o Rules 3.3 and 2.3.