The United Kingdom’s regulatory authority for telecom and broadcasting, the Office of Communications (OFCOM), has announced a £20,000 (Rs 19.73 lakh) fine on Worldview Media Network Limited’s Republic Bharat channel for breaching guidelines on hate speech, offensive language, and abusive or derogatory treatment of individuals, groups, religions or communities.
OFCOM’s decision concerns a segment aired on September 6, the show Poochta Hai Bharat presented by Republic Editor in Chief Arnab Goswami. The debate, ostensibly about India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon mission, focussed on Indo-Pakistani relations and featured guests from India and Pakistan. OFCOM said this programme contained “uncontextualised hate speech and that this content was potentially highly offensive”.
“In the programme, the presenter and some of his guests conveyed the view that all Pakistani people are terrorists, including that: ‘their scientists, doctors, their leaders, politicians all are terrorists. Even their sports people’; ‘every child is a terrorist over there. Every child is aterrorist. You are dealing with a terrorist entity’. One guest also described Pakistani scientists as ‘thieves’, while another described Pakistani people as ‘beggars’. In the context of these criticisms, the presenter, addressing Pakistan and/or Pakistani people, said: ‘We make scientists, you make terrorists’,” OFCOM said in its findings.
“We considered these statements to be expressions of hatred based on intolerance of Pakistani people based on their nationality alone, and that the broadcast of these statements spread, incited, promoted and justified such intolerance towards Pakistani people among viewers,” it added.
OFCOM noted a particular incident where Pakistani people were outright threatened with violence: “A third guest, General Sinha said, ‘Oh you useless people. Beggars. Oh beggars, oh beggars. We will douse you with 1.25kg, .75kg-, with two inches. PoK, PoK, we are coming to the PoK. We are coming to the Gilgit, Baltistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa…We are going to come, be ready. People in your country are shivering with fear that the Indian army may come. We will barge inside your home in Baluchistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Karachi, in your area, in Multan, in Rawalpindi and kill you. From Lahore, from Karachi to Gilgit-Balistan when we will have control.’”
OFCOM also noted the use of the ‘Paki’ slur, calling it “a racist term that is highly offensive and unacceptable to a UK audience.” OFCOM noted that the licensee “argued that the use of the term ‘Paki’ was not intended to be offensive, nor would be interpreted as such particularly when used in the sub-continent.” OFCOM’s view was that “these negative descriptions constituted uncontextualised abuse and derogatory treatment of Pakistani people on the ground of their nationality.”
Besides the fine, the channel was directed to broadcast OFCOM’s findings and not to repeat its offences.
Worldview Media, which owns the rights to broadcast Republic Bharat in the UK, said that it was “deeply concerned” that the programme may have been viewed as containing expressions of hatred based on intolerance of Pakistani people. It said that it had considered the topic of Kashmir and its history would be a topic within audience expectations especially in view of rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
Accordingly, the channel's representation said that it had “failed in differentiating what content/speech may constitute hate speech” in accordance with the Code. It emphasised that it broadcast a public apology 28013 times “to substantiate how apologetic we are”. It said that the “particularly heavy rotation of apologies… demonstrates our efforts to convey a deep apology” and that it regretted that the apology was not sufficiently specific and detailed to convey Ofcom’s concerns." It said it accepted Ofcom’s preliminary view to direct it to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings.