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Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday said the criticism of his ministry’s decision to ban NDTV India for a day was “politically inspired”, “ill informed” and “belated”. Naidu said in Chennai that since the criticism of, and the reactions to, the order came a day after it was made public, it was “clearly an afterthought, suggesting motivated design to create a controversy where none existed”.
Naidu said the inter-ministerial committee recommended the ban “after duly acknowledging the instant reach and power of television”, and recommended suspending the telecast only for a day “as a token, so that the said channel cannot get away completely for being even unrepentant in the matter”.
The minister said the UPA government too had banned 21 channels for periods ranging from a day to two months, some for showing obscene visuals, and one for telecasting a sting operation. Naidu said people were wise enough to appreciate which of the two violations — showing obscene visuals “at the stroke of midnight” and “risking the lives of defence personnel and civilians through a live telecast of anti-terrorist operations in broad day light” — was “a serious threat to the interests of the nation”.
The government, he said, was empowered “to take action for transmitting any objectionable content inconsistent with public interest”. “I leave it to the wisdom of the Editors’ Guild to ponder if the decision against NDTV India for the reasons explained, is really reminiscent of the dark days of Emergency,” Naidu said.
He said many BJP leaders had been “at the receiving end” during the Emergency, and “would shudder to even think of doing the same to others and particularly, in respect of freedom of media”. The government, he said, has the “highest regard for media and the freedom of media and will never allow any infringement of it”.
Naidu said the decision to take NDTV India off air for a day “was not based on any newly invented rule and principle”, and the “ground on which action has been proposed against NDTV India was only a logical conclusion of concerns clearly articulated by the UPA government in various advisories issued after 26/11 terror attacks on multiple targets in Mumbai in 2008”.
Even though the UPA government did issue advisories after the 26/11 attacks, the recommendation by the inter-ministerial committee to ban NDTV India was based on the violation of 6(1)(p) of the Programme Code, which was introduced in June 2015.
The UPA advisories had asked news channels to “exercise restraint, maturity and sensitivity” while reporting on anti-terrorist operations, Naidu said. After “continued violations”, the UPA government had concluded that “any coverage violating such norms amount to coverage against the interests of the nation”, he said.
The NDA government too had issued a “couple of such advisories”, and had noticed that the violations had continued during the 2015 Gurdaspur attacks, Naidu said. “As the Government is deeply committed to uphold the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country, particularly, in the context of cross border terrorism,” he said, a Gazette notification was issued in March, “requiring TV channels to limit live coverage of anti-terrorist operations to the briefings of designated officers, in the larger security interests involved”.
NDTV India, Naidu said, was found to have violated this provision while reporting on Pathankot, and “was found to be unrepentant about what they have done”. He said the channel had “resorted to similar violations earlier”.
Naidu criticised Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for “talking about the dark days of Emergency”.
“Do you know what is Emergency? Some people who were in the Congress at that time and now in different political parties also joined the chorus now because it has become a fashion. They just want to use each and every occasion to criticise the government and take the name of the Prime Minister for each and everything,” PTI quoted Naidu as saying.
In Panaji, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said action had been taken against NDTV India because it had flouted guidelines issued after the 26/11 attacks. “It’s not a ban, but the channel was asked to temporarily put off their broadcast as they had broadcast live operation, which is against the guidelines issued to the channels following the 2008 terror attack,” Parrikar said.
The defence minister said the broadcast had wider implications as it concerned national security and the lives of serving personnel and their families at the airbase. “During UPA regime, nearly 21 times such guidelines were issued against channels for broadcasting even something like sting operation, whereas this is the matter of national security,” he said.
“The broadcast compromised the strategic assets, it may have been easily picked up by the terrorist handlers and the lives of our own security personnel may have been compromised,” Parrikar said.