“Media Trial Not Permissible”: NBDSA Orders News Channels To Take Down Umar Khalid Shows

Umar Khalid

The News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) on Tuesday ordered Zee News, Zee Hindustan, India TV, Aaj Tak, and News18 to remove various shows/videos about former JNU student and UAPA accused Umar Khalid that were broadcast in 2020 and misreported and misrepresented facts about him, LiveLaw reported.

In its order, the NBDSA, a self-regulatory body of private television channels led by Supreme Court judge A. K. Sikri, stated that the news channels in question had used sensationalist taglines during their broadcasts about Khalid, implying that he had been found guilty in the Delhi riots case.

In essence, the authority was dealing with a complaint filed by counsel Indrajeet Ghorpade and others, who claimed that these news organizations had held a media trial against Umar Khalid in the Delhi riots case.

The purported media trial held by the channels against Umar Khalid in the Delhi riots inquiry was the common thread in the allegations submitted against the four channels, namely Zee News, Zee Hindustan, India TV, and Aaj Tak.

Having gone through the allegations, replies from the news channels and the taglines, and content of the show, the NBDSA, in its order observed thus:

“…the media has the freedom to report on any subject matter concerning public interest. It is a fact that riots took place in Delhi. It is also a fact that Umar Khalid was arrested by the Police, and the Police have filed a charge sheet alleging that Umar Khalid was the mastermind behind these riots. It can also be assumed that these riots would amount to anti-national activities…”

Taking into account the content of the shows, the Authority determined that broadcasting news about riots and the alleged involvement of Umar Khalid as per a police report was within the news channels’ rights; however, the Authority took issue with the news channels’ treatment of the police report as gospel truth and proceeded to discuss the programme as if the charge of inciting violence leading to riots stood provable.

The Authority also stated that it would have been permissible for the news to hold panel discussions limited to the allegations levelled against Umar Khalid by the police, namely that the police charge sheet has indicted Umar Khalid with the explicit clarification that these are only allegations that have yet to be proven in a court of law.

The Authority went on to say that the channels’ claims that Umar Khalid had been found guilty or that there was enough evidence against him to convict him amounted to a media trial, which is against the law.

As a result of the foregoing, the NBDSA raised major concerns about the sensationalist taglines and tickers that were aired during broadcasts such as Delhi Riots को लेकर बड़ा खुलासा | Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam की साजिश’ by Zee Hindustan; ‘Taal Thok Ke (Special Edition): 2016 के JNU Plan से 2020 में Delhi Riots?’ by Zee News,In the name of Muslims, Umar Sharjeel plan rior”, “Command of the protest (antiCAA)…plan for a riot; “Umar Khalid is a terrorist?”which gave the appearance that the defendant had already been convicted.

In light of this, the Authority determined that the broadcasts were in violation of the values of impartiality, objectivity, and neutrality established in the Authority’s Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards and Guidelines.

Regarding the taglines used by the news channels, the Court observed thus:

“No doubt, some of the taglines contained question marks. If all taglines were with question marks along with specific contents that these were charges only and yet to be proved, the matter would have been different. Insofar as the programmes in question are concerned, when viewed in entirety, the broadcasters cannot deny the fact that these taglines create a certain perception amongst the public. Therefore, it is important that taglines and/or hashtags be used carefully especially in controversial matters.”

In light of the foregoing, the Court instructed broadcasters/channels to exercise caution and refrain from broadcasting taglines and/or hashtags that portray the accused in a negative light under the NBDSA.

Finally, the Court ordered that the video of the abovementioned broadcast be withdrawn immediately from the channel’s website, YouTube, and any other links, and that the same be confirmed in writing to NBDSA within 7 days of receipt of the Order.





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