Sangat TV breached Code, says Ofcom

The Sikh channel Sangat TV is guilty of ‘a serious contravention’ of the broadcasting Code for which it will face a statutory sanction, Ofcom has said.

The Sikh channel Sangat TV is guilty of ‘a serious contravention’ of the broadcasting Code for which it will face a statutory sanction, Ofcom has said.

The decision relates to a complaint about a panel discussion aired by the channel on 1 October 2012. This discussed a knife attack on retired Lieutenant-General Brar (78) in Central London the previous day. Brar commanded Indian armed forces during Operation Blue Star, the assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984 in which 87 Indian soldiers and hundreds of Sikhs supporting an independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan) were killed. Three Sikhs were charged in relation to the attack, one of whom pleaded guilty to ‘unlawful wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm’ at Southwark Crown Court earlier this month. He will be sentenced at the end of the trial of the other two, which is due to take place in April.

In the programme the eight panellists congratulated the attackers in a way thought to contravene Rule 3.1 of the Code, which states that: ‘Material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television or radio services.’

Regis 1, Sangat TV’s license holder, was invited to respond to the complaint. Having considered its submission Ofcom nonetheless decided that cumulatively the panellists’ statements ‘were an indirect call to action to members of the Sikh community to take violent action against Lieutenant-General Brar, other members of the Indian armed forces who had taken part in Operation Blue Star, or those who supported this military operation.’

‘Given that Sangat TV is especially aimed at members of the Sikh community in the UK, we considered that there was a likelihood that some members of the audience may have seen the panellists’ endorsements of the act of violence …as implicit encouragement to repeat such an attack, or to carry out similar attacks against other individuals…,’ it added.

It also criticised Regis 1’s lack of compliance procedures. While acknowledging the difficulties presented by live programming it concluded, ‘the Licensee had allowed the material to be broadcast uninterrupted and had provided no evidence to Ofcom to show that it had any proper procedures or systems in place for monitoring live content to ensure compliance with the Code or to take urgent and robust action when required.’

The regulator concluded: ‘Despite the steps taken by Regis 1, in light of all of the above considerations, Ofcom reached the view that the broadcaster had broadcast material likely to encourage or to incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder.’

Sangat TV achieved national and international praise for its live reports of the August 2011 disturbances in Handsworth and elsewhere. While many approved of its ‘guerrilla journalism’ members of the African Caribbean community in Handsworth expressed concern that its lacked balance and felt it damaged community relations. Criticism came to a head at a meeting of Handsworth Wood Ward Committee on 20 November 2011 when a proposal was made to contribute £2995 from the ward’s Community Chest Funds to a project entitled Promoting Positive Social Values to be run by the channel. The bid was approved by two of Handsworth Wood’s three councillors despite opposition.

The full text of the Ofcom ruling can be found in Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin Issue Number 222, 21 January 2013. The sanction imposed will be announced within 60 days.