Tamil channel Sathiyam TV alleges political censorship as govt warns it for ‘defaming’ Modi

The Modi government has issued an official warning to the channel for supposed violation of programme code in two shows
Tamil channel Sathiyam TV alleges political censorship as govt warns it for ‘defaming’ Modi
Tamil channel Sathiyam TV alleges political censorship as govt warns it for ‘defaming’ Modi
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Chennai based Tamil news and gospel TV channel Sathiyam TV is at the eye of a storm over back-to-back warning and show-cause notices served to the channel by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Modi government has issued an official warning to the channel for supposed violation of programme code in two of its shows, both aired on December 9, 2014. Further, it has also issued show-cause notice for 3 other ‘violations’ in May 2015.

The channel has since approached the Delhi High Court, you can read about it on LiveLaw.

Sathiyam TV is a news and current affairs channel run by Sathyam Media Vision Pvt Ltd. The TV channel has two main types of programming – news and Christian evangelical content.

The TV channel’s website says that the “Gospel content that we telecast in non-prime time represents all leading denominations of the believer community.” The group also owns an online radio FM channel called Evangel FM.

On December 9, 2014, two programmes aired on Sathiyam TV which caught the I&B ministry’s attention, for which a show-cause notice was sent in December 16, 2014. The News Minute has a copy of the ‘Warning’ notice issued by the ministry on May 12, 2015 which refers to the initial show cause notice. (The common procedure is that a show-cause notice is issued first, and then a warning after hearing both the sides.)

 According to the warning notice, one of the programmes was a Bible-preaching one called ‘Ungal Asservatham Nerum’ meaning ‘Your Blessing Time’. Towards the end of the programme, the preacher says repeatedly for about three minutes, “lnde Pollada Manisharai Inda Ulagathilindre Tuke Appa Inde Pollada Manisharai avan Pillaigal Oode Tuke Appa”, which means, "Oh, lord! Remove this satanic person from this world!l Oh lordl Remove this person along with his sons (supporters) away from me."

And what is the problem with this? Quoting from the ministry warning,

“The programme 'UNGAL ASEERVATHA NERAM', apparently made reference to a 'dreadful man' as a threat to Christianity by one preacher of Christian faith. Such statements being broadcast from a religious preacher appeared to be targeting a political leader and could potentially give rise to a communally sensitive situation and incite the public to violent tendencies which would be conducive to law and order situation. Altogether, this appeared to violate Rule 6(1) (c ), (d), (e) & (i) of the Programme Code.”

The warning does not explain as to how the statements of the preacher refer to any politician, and how it could incite ‘violent tendencies’.

The second programme, titled ‘Parthathum Padithathum’ meaning ‘What has been seen and read’ is a current affairs news programme. In this, the ministry takes issue with a talk-show guest, a senior journalist, “making some statements against the Prime Minister”.

The notice says,

“one senior journalist participating in the News Analysis alleged that Prime Minister engineered crowds at his rallies and also influenced the media to project an incorrect picture as true. He accused the P.M. of using his oratorical skills to make people believe his false statements. The statements appeared to defame a person without any substantiation. lt appeared to malign and slander the Prime Minister which was repugnant to the esteemed office that he holds and therefore, appeared to violate Rule 6(1Xd) & (i) of the Programme Code.”

Sathiyam TV did not take this lying down. They responded to the above show-cause notice on December 17, 2014 stating that the first programme had no reference to the Prime Minister at all, and that the comments made about Modi ‘skills’ were actually a compliment paid to him. The channel in turn blamed the ministry of trying to drive a wedge between the PM’s office and the media, and inciting religious passions.

A hearing was also held in front of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the matter.

But the IMC felt that the channel was guilty, giving bizarre reasons for its culpability. They assumed that it was indeed the PM who was being referred to and targeted, so they went ahead and issued a warning. A warning issued on a news channel is a permanent taint on it, and repeated warnings could mean cancellation of license.

But things do not end with the first warning which was given on May 12, 2015. From the very next day, the ministry started noticing other ‘violations’. In yet another notice served on August 26, 2015, the ministry reported the following violations,

First, for airing a report about a child-atrocity in Assam on May 13, 2015 – the same story and visuals were carried in several other channels.

Second, for airing CCTV footage of a firing in a hospital in Madhya Pradesh, which was also carried in several other channels.

And third, for airing footage of a man setting himself on fire during a BJP event in Telangana which was also aired in other channels.

The allegation against the channel is that some of the visuals were not blurred to enough for being aired on TV. Sources in Sathiyam TV say that other channels too had played the same visuals without blurring. It is not clear if other channels which have aired the same footage have also been issued a show-cause notice for the same.

With the I&B Ministry seemingly making a case for an eventual cancellation of license of the channel on grounds of such violations, Sathiyam TV has now approached the Delhi High court, which has sought a response from the MIB.

In their petition, a copy of which is with The News Minute, the TV channel has said that the warning of the ministry amounts to “political censorship” and that “Open criticism of government policies and operations are not a ground for restricting expression”. It also says that the order “completely fails to consider the scope and ambit of both shows or even takes the purported remarks in the natural context in which they were made and instead gives a perverse reading”. The petitioners have asked that the ‘warning’ be quashed. 

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