Sangat TV rapped by Ofcom for “offensive” show

Raj Baddhan

Senior Editor


Sangat TV

Sangat TV, the free-to-air Sikh religious broadcaster in the UK, has been rapped by Ofcom again, just weeks after being pulled up the media regulator previously.

In the ‘Youth Show’ programme, which aired on Sangat TV in February, showed a controversial discussion on Sikh freedom fighters.

Ofcom recognises that the Sikh community reveres figures who are regarded as martyrs or ��freedom fighters�۪ by their followers, in that they have died or undergone suffering, including imprisonment, in the name of the Sikh community. It acknowledged the long-standing dispute that has existed between members of the Sikh community in India and the Indian authorities as to the degree of self-determination that might be afforded to the Sikh community in India. Ofcom accepts that since Sangat TV is aimed at the Sikh community, it might wish to broadcast content about Balwant Singh Rajoana and his involvement in the killing of Beant Singh. It appears that a number of Sikhs regard Balwant Singh Rajoana as a freedom fighter because of his involvement in the killing of Beant Singh and subsequent imprisonment.

In accordance with the right to freedom of expression, the Code does not prevent broadcasters from referring to individuals who some in a particular community think have taken legitimate violent action against politicians considered to be responsible for violent acts against that community. However, in doing so, broadcasters must ensure that references to individuals who have carried out extreme acts of violence, including murder, are sufficiently contextualised to ensure compliance with the Code.

In this case, Ofcom noted that the speaker made a number of statements strongly praising the Sikh man, Balwant Singh Rajoana, who had been convicted for his involvement in the murder of Beant Singh. The speaker spoke directly to camera, which in Ofcom�۪s opinion, would have been likely to increase the impact of his words and so the potential for offence. At no point was the speaker challenged to justify his unqualified praise for Balwant Singh Rajoana, for example by a reference being made in the broadcast to the fact that, irrespective of the assassins�۪ motive, the suicide bombing to which Balwant Singh Rajoana was an accomplice killed 17 individuals in addition to the politician Beant Singh. Nor was the speaker challenged when he said that Balwant Singh Rajoana ���has done nothing wrong�۝. This was despite the fact that the Licensee in its response to Ofcom conceded that Balwant Singh Rajoana had been convicted for the murder of Beant Singh.

Ofcom considered that the vast majority of a UK audience would find such adulatory references to a convicted murderer still serving his prison sentences for his crime to be highly offensive. Furthermore, we noted that neither the Licensee nor the speaker himself attempted to place the speaker�۪s positive statements in praise of Balwant Singh Rajoana in context. This might have been by acknowledging for example that (irrespective of the fact that many in the Sikh community might agree with, for example, Balwant Singh Rajoana�۪s grievances with the Indian authorities) it was wholly unacceptable for Balwant Singh Rajoana to have murdered Beant Singh and 17 others by means of a suicide bomb attack. For these reasons Ofcom considered that this content was not sufficiently contextualised to justify the potential offence caused by such unqualified praise for a convicted killer, currently imprisoned for his crime.

In reaching the decision in this case, Ofcom took careful account of the Licensee�۪s representations. Firstly, Regis 1 said that Sangat TV is a ���specialist Sikh Channel providing a bespoke service for the international Sikhs and to that end have a public duty to these audiences to present the Sikh concerns�۝. It added that it was ���under a duty to discuss Sikh issues without fear or favour�۝ and that it had not in any way sought to cause any offence. As mentioned above, Ofcom recognises that as a channel targeted at the Sikh community, Sangat TV will want, and has the editorial freedom, to produce content concerning issues that are of interest to Sikhs. However, in doing so, Sangat TV must comply with the Code at all times.

Second, the Licensee made several points concerning how Balwant Singh Rajoana is perceived in the Sikh community. For example, it said that he is viewed as a ���freedom fighter by his community and by the authorities as a terrorists much like Nelson Mandela… [and] Gerry Adams�۝. Regis 1 added that ���[h]istory has shown one man�۪s terrorist to be another man�۪s freedom fighter�۝, and that although ���a significant majority of the Sikh community see [Balwant Singh Rajoana] as a freedom fighter…that does not mean they condone murder�۝. In response, Ofcom recognises that it appears that a number of Sikhs regard Balwant Singh Rajoana as a freedom fighter and that broadcasters are at liberty to include references to, or coverage of, the lives and actions of figures popularly referred to as ��freedom fighters�۪ within particular communities. However, the Code requires that in doing so, any potential offence is justified by the context. In particular, references to any serious acts of violence by individuals must be sufficiently contextualised.

Ofcom noted Regis 1�۪s representation that the audience in this case was made up of international Sikh viewers and ���the fact that one lauds a freedom fighter it [does not] mean that somehow murder of innocents is encouraged�۝. The fact that an Ofcom licensed channel may be targeting an international audience, or that broadcast content does not constitute an incitement or encouragement of crime or violent action, does not obviate the need for a broadcaster to ensure that potentially offensive references to a convicted murderer are sufficiently contextualised.

Third, the Licensee defended its ���right to discuss the views of the Sikh community at large�۝ in relation to Beant Singh. It said that Beant Singh ���was long considered by the Sikh community to be a war criminal who was instrumental in perpetrating these massacres�۝, and the presenter was reflecting the views of the Sikhs ���who gave evidence in numerous public hearings citing that the chief minister (Beant Singh] was directly responsible of what the Sikhs class as genocide�۝. Regis 1 added that ���Amnesty International and many other human rights groups conducted their own independent enquiries and found that [the killings of Sikhs] were mass state sponsored killings of innocent victims�۝. In this way, the Licensee said that the programme did not intentionally seek to glorify murder, but sought to ���highlight the lamented failure by the Indian Authorities to bring to account those responsible and complicit in the murders of innocent [Sikh] victims�۝. We acknowledge the controversy surrounding deaths of Sikh civilians that have taken place in India.

In reaching our decision in this case, Ofcom noted that Regis 1 had suspended the presenter of the programme, and was making its own enquiry into the case, and ���decided to send our presenters on media training in relation to presenting balanced views and contextualising sensitive subjects�۝. We also took into account the Licensee�۪s statement that: ���We try our best to avoid the repetition of any unpleasant experiences brought to our notice, irrespective of the fact that these are isolated one off politically motivated, unrepresentative… situations�۝. However, given the above, we concluded that the programme included potentially offensive content that was clearly not justified by the context. The programme was therefore in breach of Rule 2.3.
In issue 222 of Ofcom�۪s Broadcast Bulletin5, published on 21 January 2013, we recorded a breach of Rule 3.1 of the Code (prohibiting the broadcast of material likely to encourage crime) in relation to content broadcast by the Licensee. Ofcom said that this was a serious contravention of the Code, and put Regis 1 on notice that Ofcom would be considering this breach of the Code for the imposition of a statutory sanction.

Although on balance Ofcom do not consider that the Code breach in the present case is so serious as to warrant consideration for the imposition of a statutory sanction, Ofcom was concerned that it related to programming broadcast soon after the breach recorded against the Licensee in issue 222 of Ofcom�۪s Broadcast Bulletin. Ofcom was also concerned that it follows a similar breach of Rule 2.3 recorded against the Licensee in issue 227 of Ofcom�۪s Broadcast Bulletin. Therefore, pending the result of Ofcom�۪s consideration of the imposition of a statutory sanction against Regis 1 arising from the breach recorded in issue 222 of Ofcom�۪s Broadcast Bulletin, we expect the Licensee to take any necessary action urgently to ensure compliance with Rule 2.3 of the Code. If it fails to do so, and similar Code breaches occur, Ofcom puts the Licensee on notice that it will consider whether a further possible statutory sanction is warranted.