Two popular Telugu news channels, TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi, have been taken off many cable TV networks across Andhra Pradesh. Senior executives with the channels allege the cable operators have stopped airing their news channels for the past couple of days per instructions from the ruling YSRCP in the state.
Representatives from ABN Andhra Jyothi and TV5 told TNM that they will pursue legal action against cable operators as they have violated contract terms. The television channels point out that this unofficial ban of their news channels by the YSRCP is similar to the ban on TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothi in 2014 by the TRS in Telangana. The present ban violates the regulatory framework for cable operators by the TRAI, say the channels. Though both the channels insist that they are being punished for reporting on anti-government stories, political observers say the unofficial ban is due to the political leanings of these Telugu channels.
According to TRAI rules, cable operators cannot disconnect the signals of TV channels without giving 21 daysâ€™ notice and specifying the reason for the disconnection.
TV5, in an official statement to TNM, said, â€śIn some places, the channel is not coming as the cable operator is not telecasting our channel, we will be going legally against them. Because the payment has been madeâ€ť (sic).
A representative of TV5, on the condition of anonymity, named three ministers with the Andhra Pradesh cabinet who allegedly instructed the cable operators to drop the two news channels. The channels accuse ministers, Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy (Panchayat Raj Minister), Perni Venkataramaiah Nani (Minister of Transport and I&PR) and Kodali Sri Venkateswara Rao also known as Kodali Nani (Minister for Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs), as the ones who instructed cable operators to drop the two channels at a meeting with them. The ministerâ€™s offices were unresponsive when asked for a comment.
â€śThey held a meeting with the cable operators last week and told them to shut down the channels from their networks, there is no basis to this instruction. When the operators said they cannot shut down a channel as it was against the rules, they were threatened with taxes. The channels have been down for a couple of days in most of Andhra Pradesh. This is a war on media,â€ť said the source.
ABN Andhra Jyothi is also mulling legal action against the operators and claimed they never favoured any political party. Speaking to TNM, a representative of ABN Andhra Jyothi said, â€śThe channel been taken off air in many places but itâ€™s not official. We used to write news items that irritated the government and they did this in response. We are neither pro TDP or pro YSRCP, even when the TDP was in power we used to write the same kind of stories. We are not calculating revenue losses at the moment, we are focusing on solutions on how to come back on air,â€ť said the ABN source, who is hopeful that the issue will get resolved soon.
The assembly ban
The state government had in July revoked access to three TV news channels, TV5, ABN Andhra Jyothi and ETV, from telecasting live from inside the Andhra Pradesh Legislative assembly media box. The reporters of the channel, considered to be soft on TDP, have also been barred from entering the legislative assembly building. The channels were also accused of not carrying the YSRCP-led state government side of news reports.
The senior official with TV5 says they are unable to carry the government side of any news story, because before elections YSRCP leaders and spokespersons had stopped giving bytes to the reporters from these three channels. â€śDuring the state elections period, Jagan Mohan Reddy was naming three channels TV5, ETV and ABN Andhra Jyothi, calling them yellow media, which means pro TDP. They first asked all their leaders not to go to the studio of these channels,â€ť said the TV5 source. â€śThe allegation is that these channels are not showing the government side of the story, but we cannot show the government reaction because their leaders wonâ€™t speak to us. They donâ€™t allow us into the party offices, then from where do we get their reactions?â€ť
Not the first time
This is not the first time that TV news channels have been taken off air arbitrarily. Earlier in 2014, TV9 Telugu and ABN Andhra Jyothi were taken off air for close to three months in Telangana. The TRS-led state government took offence to content aired on those channels calling it â€śderogatory, highly objectionable and in bad tasteâ€ť. The ban was brought about after a ruling in the Telangana assembly was overturned after the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) directed the cable operators to resume the transmission of TV channels.
â€śWhen people ask cable operators why the channels are unavailable, they are lying that there is a technical issue with the channels. According to TRAI rules, if there is a public demand they are supposed to restore the channel within 72 hours,â€ť the TV5 source added.
Though the channels claim their reporting is unbiased, Professor Nageshwar Rao disagrees but wants the TRAI and the courts to prevent such bans from repeating.
â€śThere is a partisan trend in the Telugu media and there is no independent journalism as such, but still no one has the right to stifle voices. This is not just a ban on TV channels but it is choking the choice of the viewers, the cable industry has no right to drop these channels, they are not a censor board. Even if they are biased, you have no right to ban. The court and the TRAI needs to intervene, the cable operators wonâ€™t do such things on their own without government support. These channels have not altered their characters suddenly, what has changed in the past four months is that they are critical of the government and favouring the TDP which is in the opposition now. Itâ€™s not for the government to drop the channel, itâ€™s for the viewers to decide,â€ť he said.