Television channels CNN-IBN and IBN 7 issued apologies in their 9 p.m. bulletins on Monday for presenting “a wrong and misleading picture” in their stories of land allegedly allotted to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) by the Haryana government for setting up an eye hospital in Gurgaon. The stories were titled, “Gandhi Trust flouting law?” and “Rules bent to aid Gandhis.”
The channels, which telecast the stories between August 1 and 5, 2011, will air the apologies for four more days as directed by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), which issued the broadcaster, IBN18, a “censure” for “wilful violation of NBA [News Broadcasters Association] Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards and norms of ethical journalism.” NBSA also imposed a fine of Rs. 1 lakh on IBN18, saying it had violated the NBA guidelines “relating to accuracy, impartiality, neutrality, requirement of due diligence and verification of facts prior to telecast, as also the need to carry the version of the person affected.”
CNN-IBN told The Hindu that it respected the NBSA verdict but it rejected the charge of bias.
In its complaint, RGCT said the channels had alleged that “over 850 acres of land” had been acquired by the Haryana government for the Trust and “the Trust was given 8 acres of land.” In reality, only “5 acres and 3 marlas of land was leased by the Gram Panchayat to the Trust for 33 years.” RGCT argued that as against the broadcaster’s claim that the Trust had got “exemptions” to “acquire” land for the hospital, it had neither acquired any land nor had it sought exemption for acquiring any land. RGCT also disputed the broadcaster’s allegation that the 65 petitions filed before the Punjab and Haryana High Court had said RGCT had “swung the deal.” The Trust said only one petition mentioned RGCT and this too said nothing about RGCT having swung the deal.
RGCT also said CNN-IBN and IBN7 had not sought the Trust’s views on the allegations and it had learnt of their intention to run the stories from the tweets sent out by Editor-in Chief of CNN-IBN Rajdeep Sardesai. RGCT said though it immediately e-mailed its response to the broadcaster, the latter “continued to telecast the story with sensational headlines for several days without verifying facts.” The story was broadcast on CNN-IBN 40 times and on IBN7 23 times, of these the Trust’s version was carried only once by the former and twice by the latter, RGCT said.
NBSA accepted the complaint and said: “The news reports in question are factually incorrect reportage of the extent and status of land that the RGCT was holding. The reportage also misrepresented proceedings in several writ petitions pending before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The reportage smacks of clear bias and lack of objectivity. The reportage is an example of sensationalisation with the purpose of promoting and improving the image of the channels which is unethical journalism.”
Raju Ramachandran appeared for RGCT.