Social media was awash with outrage at the ‘dictatorial’ stance adopted by the Union Government to ‘muzzle free speech’.

NDTV blackout a gross encroachment on press freedom Centre slammed by media
news Press Saturday, November 05, 2016 - 15:32

The one-day ban on leading Hindi news channel NDTV India has drawn widespread condemnation from across the political and social spectrums, as well as the media as a whole. All of them were unanimous in their demand that the controversial decision be withdrawn immediately.

The channel was penalized for its reported breach of broadcasting norms during the news coverage of the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in January this year. The Union Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry ordered it go off air for 24 hours, starting from the midnight of November 8.

The EGI strongly criticized the order, stating that the proposed blackout was tantamount to creating an Emergency-like situation, something that did not jell with a democratic set-up, as it is ‘a direct violation of the freedom of the media.”

The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA) too aired its opposition to the I&B move.

The Centre however stuck to its stance that the ‘huge indiscretion and violation of rules’ which amounted to a threat to national security could not be justified on grounds whatsoever. It also added that the ban was restricted to just a day and not a month, an option that was earlier considered by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) that looked into the matter.

Even though television channels have been blacked out 28 times in the last ten years or so, citing various broadcast violation norms, this is the first time the Centre has invoked the National Security Clause to do the same.

Social media was awash with outrage at the ‘dictatorial’ stance adopted by the Union Government to ‘muzzle free speech’. Even as NDTV expressed its shock at being ‘singled out’, and is reportedly mulling over the option of appealing before a tribunal, many prominent leaders registered their deep discontent in the matter.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and senior Congress veteran called for a show of solidarity by the rest of the media to impose a ‘self-blackout’ on the said day as a mark of protest.

The office of the Indian National Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi termed detaining of Opposition leaders and blacking out TV channels as just another day’s work in Modiji’s India. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee spared no efforts in criticizing the ‘Emergency-like attitude’ on display by the Centre.

Senior NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt termed the move as one smacking of ‘arbitrary overreach’, while her colleague Rajdeep Sardesai wanted to know if it was NDTV’s turn today, who would be next in line.

Rahul Kanwal of Aaj Tak went a step ahead and accused the Centre for drawing false parallels “between channels banned for pornography and news channels banned for talking about terrorists who probably didn’t exist.”

Columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in The Indian Express that this is the time "to find another name for cult of the leader, tyranny of nationalism, use of state power to suffocate opposition.”

Vineet Jain -Managing Director of the Times Group- suggested financial penalties rather than take a channel off the air. Political journalist Aditya Menon tweeted this as an example that shows just “how scared Modi government is of journalists who speak the truth.”

The Hindu in its editorial referred to the suspension as a ‘disturbing inclination to impose restrictions on journalistic content. Eminent historian Ramachandra Guha described the ban as a ‘misguided’ one.

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju tweeted on the difference between coverage and live coverage of anti-terrorist operations. What is banned by rule 6(1)(p) is only live coverage, he explained.


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