Ofcom issues new warning to Sangat TV

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has issued a new warning to Sangat TV following a live programme that praised the assassins of Darshan Das.

Das was the spiritual leader of Sachkhand Nanak Dham (SND), a group founded in the Punjab in 1973 that claimed links to Sikhism. As part of its global mission SND established a European centre in Church Hill Road, Handsworth in September 1982. This was the only major hub of its mission outside India.

Orthodox Sikhs regarded Das as a heretic. They also accused him of being a stooge of the Indian government and part of its ongoing attempts to eradicate Sikhism. In the aftermath of the Indian army’s storming of the Golden Temple in 1984 two British Sikhs, Manjit and Rajinder Singh, set out to assassinate Das. They posed as loyal followers and fatally shot him at a meeting in a school in Southall in November 1987. Two of Das’s devotees were also killed. Das’s killers were subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to terms of 20 and 30 years.

The live programme, broadcast on 11 November 2012 from a Gurdwara in Tividale, Warley, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the killings.

In it a young man delivered a speech in English which described the assassins as ‘diamonds’ and ‘heroes’ who would inspire ‘youngsters’.

Ofcom received four complaints about the programme and decided it warranted investigation under Rule 2.3 of its Code. This states, ‘In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context…Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.’

Regis 1, Sangat TV’s licensee, argued that time and place of the lecture provided sufficient context. In mitigation it also pointed out the place of ‘martyrs’ in the Sikh religion and that Sangat TV is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Charitable Trust that aims to educate society, enhance community cohesion and promote related social values like patience, tolerance and forgiveness.

Ofcom rejected Regis 1’s defence, stating that the broadcast ‘had the potential to cause serious offence’ and that this was increased ‘by the fact that several times the speaker positively referred to the fact that the killing of Darshan Das had taken place in the UK, and that his killers were residing in a UK prison.’

It also said that the programme failed to adequately contextualise the event, in that, ‘At no point was the speaker challenged to justify his unqualified praise for Manjit Singh and Rajinder Singh, by referring for example to the fact that these men had committed murder on UK soil.’

Ofcom also reiterated previous criticisms of Sangat TV’s lack of procedures or systems for ensuring live content complied with its Code and questioned ‘how the broadcasting of these offensive remarks could have enhanced community cohesion and tolerance’.

The ruling concludes by stating that Ofcom does not consider this breach of its Code to be so serious as to warrant consideration for the imposition of a statutory sanction but that if Sangat TV fails to strengthen its procedures and similar breaches occur it ‘will consider whether a further possible statutory sanction is warranted, pending the result of a separate sanctions process which is currently ongoing.’

The separate sanctions process referred to concerns a previous ruling reported here.

The full text of the latest ruling can be found in Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin Issue Number 227, 8 April 2013.