There is nothing in the least that is funny about the actions initiated by a slew of airlines against a stand-up comedian who behaved offensively with a television anchor on board an Indigo Mumbai-Lucknow flight this week. The incident itself was deeply repugnant.
Everyone, including an egregiously unprofessional television anchor, deserves the privacy of his space, in this case his airline seat. He does not deserve the intrusion of a co-passenger, especially one who accosts him with a mobile phone and calls him a coward for refusing to answer obnoxious questions. And he certainly does not deserve to have a video clip showing his equanimity in the face of grave offence posted on social media, and for the perpetrator to suggest that by this act he was calling the anchor to account.
If the anchor is often accused, and not without reason, of rampant sensationalism, unprofessionalism and of routinely genuflecting at the altar of the ruling dispensation, the comedian too was guilty of not being true to his craft. He wasn’t even remotely funny. But it is the reaction of the Civil Aviation ministry and of some airlines that raise eyebrows.
Civil Aviation Requirements that stipulate punishments for offensive behaviour on commercial flights must follow due process and mandate that a passenger’s action must be evaluated by an airline’s internal committee headed by a retired judge. While temporary bans are allowed pending an inquiry process that must be completed within 30 days, the imposition by Indigo of a six-month ban is questionable if only because the rules are quite specific.
They specify three types of punishment ~ a three-month ban for disruptive behaviour including verbal harassment; a six-month ban for physically abusive behaviour and a ban of up to two years for lifethreatening behaviour. Prima facie, the comedian’s offence would fall in the first category and for the airline to therefore punish him with a six-month ban without even a mandatory inquiry seems excessive.
It was just as excessive for the Civil Aviation minister to have exhorted other airlines via social media to emulate Indigo’s action. Ministers of the republic must conduct themselves with sobriety; they cannot be seen to be trigger-happy when it is in defence of a television personality, especially one considered an establishment acolyte. And administrations ought not to be run via instructions issued on social media.
Sadly, the comedian has shown no evidence of contriteness; on the contrary he is reported to have justified his behaviour by saying that the anchor’s television channel had done the same thing with an Opposition politician on board a flight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but here with the government and the airline too having overreacted, we are faced with four wrongs that add up to a mess.