India’s News Broadcasting Standards Authority has fined TV9 for broadcasting an 'investigative' story that exposed the identities and personal information of nearly a dozen men who had their photographs and personal details on a gay personals website. The video by TV9 also featured two recorded telephone conversations between the reporter and two men who had listed their phone numbers on the website. The men, whose profile photographs were shown on screen, were asked to reveal their names, occupations, university, sexual preferences and where they live.
Gay rights groups quickly held protests in various cities and filed a complaint with both the TV channel and broadcast regulators after the 7-minute long story was aired by the Telugu-language TV channel in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad on 22 February.
According to the order dated 21 Mar 2011 and made public by gay website gaysifamily.com, the Delhi-based Standards Authority determined that TV9 had violated its broadcasting code with regards to sex and nudity, privacy and sting operations; and ordered the channel to pay a Rs. 1,00,000 (US$2,230) Rupee fine.
The Standards Authority also ordered the TV Channel to broadcast an apology in prime time both in English and in Telugu to be run on TV9 news channel on three consecutive days between 8 and 9pm in English and between 3 to 4pm in Telugu with the following text (to be translated):
“TV9 apologizes for the story "Gay Culture Rampant In Hyderabad” telecast on this channel on 22nd February, 2011 from I5:11 hrs. to 15:17 hrs. particularly since the story invaded the privacy of certain persons and was in violation of the Code of Ethics & Broadcasting Standards of the News Broadcasters Association. Any hurt or harm caused to any person thereby is sincerely regretted.”
Aditya Bondyopadhyay, a lawyer and Director of LGBT rights group Adhikaar, who filed a complaint against TV9 detailing the exact violations that the channel had breached and spearheaded a publicity campaign, said he is happy with the outcome.
"It is a victory for the community and and we all should celebrate. But at the same time we all should now also become more vigilant that no such violation is done by any other media house in the future, and if they do, we protest and we bring bring it to the notice of the NBSA. 3 cheers to all who worked and protested. We came together as a community and we won."
In its defence, the broadcaster said it “had no intention of criticising the gay culture, but had sought to bring-out through investigative journalism that (innocent) people were being enticed to illegal and unlawful activities”. TV9 also claimed that the news story “was intended to warn the society at large and the concerned families of the murky affairs in the gay culture.”
The order, which was signed by Justice [Retired] S Verma, however determined that: “In effect what the content of the Programme clearly did was; instead of carrying a ‘crime story’ it merely carried evidently a gratuitous depiction and reportage of homosexuality among men without any underlying serious message for the society; the Programme needlessly violated the right to privacy of individuals with possible alternate sexual orientation, no longer considered taboo or a criminal act; and the Programme misused the special tool of a "sting operation" available only to subserve the larger public interest.”
Justice [Retired] S Verma also disagreed with the broadcaster’s claim that the names, pictures, images, phone numbers and other particulars of persons featured in the Programme were in public domain since they were on a website (planetromeo.com).
“(T)he said website has an open/public section which gives general information about the activities etc. that are conducted on the said website but does not contain particulars and pictures of individuals; and there is a separate members area, access to which is controlled by a membership identity and password to access which one would need to enroll as a member of the said website. While the names, particulars and photographs etc. of individuals may be available in the said members only section, it cannot be said that such names, particulars and photographs are therefore available in the public domain.”
A news story about the gay community's outrage to TV9's 'investigative' report