Will 279 apologies and a £20,000 fine for hate speech change anything about Goswami’s Republic?

Earlier this year, according to a submission to the British broadcast regulator Ofcom, Arnab Goswami’s Republic Bharat team conducted “a full briefing to senior management and the production team on hate speech and how to identify pejorative statements”.

Anyone familiar with Goswami’s TV shows knows that he and has team have no difficulty identifying such content. What his channels find much harder is keeping this kind of material off the air.

This was the conclusion of British authorities too. It earned the pro-Bharatiya Janata Party Republic Bharat a sanction for a programme that contained “uncontextualised hate speech” and “highly offensive” content. The regulator’s initial findings alone had prompted Goswami’s channel to air an apology “279 times”, with a request that the regulator not to take any further action.

On Wednesday, Ofcom announced that it was imposing a financial penalty of 20,000 pounds – Rs 20 lakh – on the TV channel.

“Having regard to all the circumstances… including the need to achieve an appropriate level of deterrence and the particularly serious nature of the Code breaches in this case, and all the representations to date from the Licensee, Ofcom’s decision is that an appropriate and proportionate sanction would be a financial penalty of £20,000,” the regulator said in its order, with “Licensee” here referring to Republic Bharat. “Given that the Licensee has recorded a number of breaches within a short time, Ofcom is requesting that the Licensee attend a meeting to discuss its compliance arrangements.”

The decision was taken based on a show called Poochta hai Bharat aired on September 6, 2019, in which Goswami and his guests used the launch of India’s Chandrayaan 2 space mission as a springboard for a flurry of hate speech against Pakistanis.

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Among other things, the order note that one of the guests on the programme said, “Their scientists, doctors, their leaders, politicians all are terrorists. Even their sports people”, “every child is a terrorist over there. Every child is a terrorist. You are dealing with a terrorist entity.”

Goswami himself addressed the Pakistani people, saying, “We make scientists, you make terrorists.”

This was Ofcom’s finding on such remarks:

“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…

The programme also referred to Pakistani people as ‘terrorists’ (even children), ‘beggars’,’thieves’, ‘backward’, likened them to donkeys and referred to them as ‘Paki’, a racist term that is highly offensive and unacceptable to a UK audience…

Although discussion of the contentious issue of Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations were legitimate issues for exploration by Republic Bharat, we considered that the audience was unlikely to have expected to view hate speech or abusive or derogatory content relating to Pakistani people broadcast on this channel without sufficient contextual justification.”

While Ofcom was considering the matter, the Indian channel had the opportunity to make some representations to the regulator. Republic Bharat acknowledged “misjudgements made in this programme”. It also told the regulator that the 20,000-pound fine “seriously threatened its ability to sustain the Republic Bharat channel”. It said that it had been running at a loss and that it “did not even cover one month’s costs between its launch in August 2019 and March 2020”.

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The regulator dismissed these arguments, saying “the Licensee continues to operate notwithstanding its representations on its financial situation. We therefore did not consider that the evidence supports the Licensee’s submission that the sanction would threatenits ability to operate, and we considered that the level of the sanction was appropriate in the circumstances.”

While the material in this case was directed at Pakistanis, Indian viewers are well acquainted with Goswami’s incendiary language about whoever his crosshairs fall on that day. A quick sampling of his work makes it clear that the TV anchor is as happy to direct his ire towards Indians, primarily if they do not agree with his point of view or that of the Indian government.

Research by academics Christophe Jaffrelot and Vihang Jumle found that material on Goswami’s channels are “overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP” and tend to use portray critics of the government as enemies of the country. Tejinder Singh Sodhi, former bureau chief of Republic TV, told Newslaundry earlier this year that his job was “that of a hitman – to find out what Omar Abdullah is saying, to find out what Mehbooba Mufti is saying, find fault in it, and report that they are anti-national”.

Goswami’s channels were at the forefront of the government’s campaign to blame Muslims for spreading the coronavirus. His channels worked as bullhorns for official propaganda about the Tablighi Jamaat, a story that fell apart earlier this month after a Delhi court acquitted all foreign members of the group who were accused of flouting lockdown guidelines.

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The channels’ witchhunt against the girlfriend of a film actor who had committed suicide prompted the Bombay High Court in October to ask a lawyer from Republic TV, “If you become the investigator, prosecutor and the judge, what is the use of us? Why are we here?” The court also found that the channel had depicted the woman in a way that infringes on her rights.

Despite questions like this from the Indian judiciary and the British broadcast regulator, Goswami’s close association with the government – his channel was initially founded by Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party – has earned it widespread support from the entire ruling class in India. This implies just acceptance but even encouragement of the incendiary language that is par for the course on the Republic channels.

Having aired 279 apologies, being handed out a 20,000-pound fine that the channel claimed could force it to shut down in the UK and received that “full briefing” on hate speech, can we expect anything to change for Goswami and his channels?

Will 279 apologies and a £20,000 fine for hate speech change anything about Goswami’s Republic?