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Zee News refuses to apologise for inflammatory reporting on Indo-Pak mushaira

MUMBAI: The News Broadcasting Standards Authority, India’s self-regulatory body for TV news channels, has ordered country’s Zee News to pay a fine of 1,00,000 (one lakh) and air an apology for a report the channel aired some months ago regarding Indo-Pak mushaira.

The complaint against the Zee News was filed by scientist and poet Gauhar Raza in 2016.   Zee News had called Raza a member of the ‘Afzal Premi Gang’, (indication of a terrorist) for reciting poems at an event – Shankar Shaad Mushaira. The NBSA has also asked them to pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh. This is the highest punishment the NBSA can give to a channel.

Several public intellectuals, including writer Ashok Vajpeyi, actor Sharmila Tagore, well-known singer Shubha Mudgal and writer Dr Syeda Hameed, also filed a separate complaint with the NBSA and said that they were aggrieved by the irresponsible, provocative and aggressive programme, which had little bearing on facts or poetry.

Zee News has been told to telecast their apology in Hindi in a large font size, on full screen display, in a clearly audible voice and with slow speed. NBSA has given Zee News one week to pay their fine of Rs 1 lakh. They have also been directed to take down videos of the programme hosted on their website or on other sites.​

Between March 9, 2016, and March 12, 2016, Zee News had repeatedly telecast a programme titled ‘Afzal Premi Gang ka Mushaira’ and ‘Poetry Night on the Love for Afzal Guru Gang.’ The programme showed Raza reciting three of his poems at the 51st Annual Shankar Shad Mushaira event. This is a regular event, held since 1954, with the aim of fostering India-Pakistan relations through cultural exchange. Raza’s poems were about theatre activist Safdar Hashmi and about the murder of two journalists in Iraq in 2010.

Zee’s programme had interspersed clips of Raza’s poetry recitation with clips of alleged slogans raised against India at an event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in February 2016. The programme had also used various posters of Afzal Guru. It used labels such as ‘Afzal Guru Gang’ and ‘Desh Virodhi Shayar’.

According to National Herald India, Zee News is unlikely to carry the ‘regret’ at 9 PM on Friday, September 8, as directed by the NBSA. The channel, as per reports, would challenge the order.

Aggrieved Dr Raza filed a complaint with the broadcaster, but Zee News refused to tender any apology or retract. Dr Raza, then, approached the NBSA and sought a public apology, removal of the programme from public domain and payout of ₹ one crore as compensation.

The programme had done immense harm to his reputation, complained Dr Raza, and had endangered not just his own life but also the lives of his family members. In his complaint, Dr Raza mentioned that he had recited three poems at the event, two of them written in 1989 and 2010, while the third one was written in 2016.

Dr Raza, they pointed out, had not even mentioned Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his involvement in the Parliament attack.

Yet, Dr Raza was described as ‘Desh Vidrohi Shayar’ (Treasonous Poet) and viewers’ passion was sought to be raised. So much so that Dr Raza began receiving hate mails, was at the receiving end of abusive messages on social media and received threatening messages.

The channel, however, denied the charges in its written response. Its lawyers and representatives also refused to relent at the hearing called by the NBSA, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice RV Raveendran.




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