THE EDITORS Guild of India has “strongly condemned” the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s order banning the transmission and re-transmission of NDTV India for a day on November 9 and said that it is “reminiscent of the Emergency”. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) said that it was “deeply concerned” by the ministry’s order.
The ministry, based on a recommendation of an inter-ministerial committee, had issued an order on November 2 banning NDTV India for a day for its coverage of the terrorist attack in Pathankot in January. It is learnt that NDTV is mulling all legal options to challenge the ministry’s order.
The Guild called the ministry’s decision unprecedented and demanded that the order be “immediately rescinded”. “The decision to take the channel off the air for a day is a direct violation of the freedom of the media and therefore the citizens of India and amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency,” it said in a statement signed by the Guild’s chairman Raj Chengappa, Group Editorial Director (Publishing), India Today Group.
“This first-of-its-kind order to impose a blackout has seen the Central government entrust itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action as and when it does not agree with the coverage,” the Editor’s Guild said.
It further stated that various legal remedies are available with the citizens and the government to “have action taken for any irresponsible media coverage”. “Imposing a ban without resorting to judicial intervention or oversight violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice,” it said, adding that the Guild called for the “immediate withdrawal of the ban order”.
The NBA said that it was “surprising” that NDTV India “has been singled out” by the inter-ministerial committee and the ministry “when the rest of the media also did cover the terror attack and all such reports were available in the public domain”.
It said that it should have been seen “from the prism of freedom of media, which is guaranteed in the constitution” and shouldn’t have gone “strictly” by the Cable Act.
It said that the alleged violations should have been referred to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, the independent self-regulatory body of NBA. It requested the ministry to re-consider its decision “in the interest of the freedom of media”.
The inter-ministerial committee includes bureaucrats from six ministries other than information and broadcasting. The Electronic Media Monitoring Centre, which was established in 2008 by the I&B ministry to check for violations of Programme Code, Advertising Code and various provisions of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 had flagged the channel’s coverage of the Pathankot terrorist attack after which the ministry had issued a showcase notice to the channel.
After going through channel’s response in writing and by representatives, the inter-ministerial committee recommended that the NDTV India be taken off-air for one day, under Section 20(2) of the Cable Act. The inter-ministerial committee had initially opined that “taking the channel off-air for 30 days for causing threat to national security through their programming will be justified”. Then, reconsidering, not to impose a “very harsh” penalty, it reduced it to one day, the minimum penalty.
The ministry’s order said the committee recommended the ban “so that they do not get away completely for this huge indiscretion and violation of specific rule or guideline relating to national security concerns”. It said the penalty must be imposed on the channel “for their transgression coupled with their unrepentant demeanour”.
The ministry agreed with the committee’s recommendation and said that NDTV India “had indeed shown irresponsibility” in complying with the Programme Code while covering anti-terrorist operations by the security forces. Using sub-sections (2) and (3) of sections 20 of the Cable Act, the ministry ordered the “prohibition” of transmission and re-transmission of NDTV India on November 9.
Sources said that since 2005, the ministry has issued orders to ban 28 other channels for a period ranging from one day to two months. Although NDTV is the first news channel to be banned for issues related to national security, orders to ban four other news channels have been issued in the past.
Janmat ? now called Live India ? was banned for a month for an alleged false sting operation; Satlon News was banned for airing nude visuals of a woman; DY365 revealed the identity of a rape victim; and international news channel Al Jazeera was taken off air for five days for allegedly showing the wrong map of India.
Other channels that have been banned include general entertainment, movies, fashion and comedy. Some of these orders have been challenged in the court, while a few others are under review by the ministry, sources said.