The Information and Broadcasting ministry’s inter-ministerial committee has recommended that news channel NDTV India be taken off air for 24 hours for allegedly revealing “strategically-sensitive information” during the course of its coverage of the anti-terror operations at the Pathankot airbase earlier this year.
The first-of-its-kind order has imposed a blackout prohibiting “the transmission or re-transmission of NDTV India channel for one day on any platform throughout India with effect from 00:01 hrs on 9th November to 00:01 hrs of 10th November”.
“The order of the MIB has been received. It is shocking that NDTV has been singled out in this manner. Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact NDTV’s coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the Emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner. NDTV is examining all options in this matter,” said a statement by NDTV tonight.
The committee’s order, dated November 2, refers to NDTV’s news telecast between 1225 and 1231 hours on January 4, 2016, while counter operations by the security forces were still on at the Pathankot airbase. It states that the reporter on ground, while replying to questions posed by the anchor, gave out “strategically-sensitive information”.
The telecast, the order states, referred to the “ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, MiGs, fighter planes, rocket launchers, mortars, helicopters, fuel tanks which was likely to be used by the terrorists themselves or their handlers to cause massive harm not only to national security, international standing of the country but also life of civilians and defence personnel.”
The order mentions that the channel also gave out details of schools and residential areas located at the airbase, endangering the lives of civilians. The inter-ministerial committee has noted that the telecast was in clear violation of the programme code under Cable TV Network Rules, 1994, which prevents live coverage of anti-terrorist operations by security forces. Until the operations conclude, the rules also limit media coverage to only the briefing given by designated officials which in this case is the DIG, NSG.
The order states that in reply to the ministry’s showcause notice issued on January 29, the channel said that much of the information was already in public domain through leading publications. Dismissing the channel’s stand that it was a matter of “subjective interpretation”, the order notes that unlike newspapers, TV has “a far wider and instantaneous impact”.
“Despite giving out the exact location of the terrorists while the operations were on, the channel has remained unrepentant as is clearly evident in their reply to the showcause notice. Hence, the one day blackout has been meted out as a penalty. This is not the first instance of such a violation by the channel,” an I&B official said.
The committee has in its order noted that the violation could attract a penalty of taking the channel off-air for 30-days. However, taking into consideration that this is the first such case of the rule — it was introduced in June 2015 — being applied, the penalty has been reduced to a day-long blackout, it states.