Support poured in from across the country for Hindi news channel NDTV India after the Information and Broadcasting ministry announced that the channel will be taken off-air for 24 hours on November 9 because of its coverage on Pathankot terror attacks. The ministry’s panel said NDTV’s reporting compromised national security.
However, it did not take much time when people from within the media fraternity and outside questioned government’s move to single out NDTV when most of the channels reported the Pathankot attack somewhat similarly. Everyone waited for Ravish Kumar’s prime time on Friday – first after announcement of the ban – to see what was in store.
Ravish – who has carved a niche for himself for his unconventional style of reporting, anchoring and long monologues which sometimes stretch for more than 10 minutes – did not disappoint as he invited mime artists on his show to put forward his point.
‘Prime Time’ show began with a short presentation on Delhi’s growing pollution with Ravish’s narration with indirect references to the ban on NDTV and how the situation for a reminiscent of the emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government. He then went on to share the ages-old Sanskrit fable of young ‘Nachiketa’ who infuriates his father by questioning his deeds in an attempt to make a connection between government’s crackdown on the channel and suppressing the freedom of press.
The mime artists tried to depict how the situation will turn out to be if those who asked questions were silenced by the government. On the other hand, it also tried to hint at the government’s attitude of avoiding question and keeping mum.
As the NDTV prime time began at 9 pm on Friday, social media users started putting out posts appreciating the scribe for another ‘unique’ attempt at taking on the establishment. Within minutes Ravish Kumar became a top tend on micro-blogging website Twitter managing to remain there till Saturday morning.
Not long ago, Ravish had drawn praise after a special episode questioning the ‘sensational’ style of reporting by news channels during the JNU episode. On the other hand, he has not been untouched by the criticism, sometimes reaching a point of ridicule and harassment.
The Telegraph, on its front page lead on Saturday, ran a story with a similar analogy with a headline ‘something is rotten in the state of Delhi’. On the other hand, the anchor faced criticism for giving the episode a ‘different turn’. Many alleged that NDTV and Ravish – in his prime time – tried to portray that government’s action against the channel was because of it questioning the administration while it was done to penalise them for putting security of the country in jeopardy.
A report by Factly on Saturday revealed that the I&B Ministry had taken action in only 88 cases since 2013 related to airing of ‘questionable’ content while it received thousands of complaints. This reinforces the point as to why the Ministry decide to target only one news channel and is there really a motive to muzzle its voice. An Indian Express report Saturday also showed that it was yet to be proved whether the ‘two terrorists’ in question about whom the channel had reported actually existed.
The report also mentions that other channels like News24, ABP and AajTak had also gave out similar information in their reports. However, the government stood firm on the decision with Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu saying that the ‘delayed criticism’ of ministry’s decision was politically motivated and that the ban was imposed to ensure ‘national security’ was not compromised.
While NDTV and Ravish Kumar managed to garner support using the unconventional approach, they failed to bring to light the facts that corroborated their point of view. The channel did not reveal what options it was considering to challenge the decision. Instead, most of such information seemed to come from other media houses and individuals.
Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju also posted on his Facebook account on Saturday that he had spoken with Ravish and told him that the ban on NDTV was illegal.
“Live coverage means showing scenes of security forces searching or pursuing terrorists, or fighting with them. Mere reporting about anti terrorist operations is not live coverage. NDTV had only reported about anti terrorist operations, but had not shown any scenes of security forces chasing or fighting with terrorists. So there was no live coverage. The ban was therefore clearly illegal,” wrote Katju.
Meanwhile, the tussle between government and media continues and it will only be revealed on November 9 whether the one-day ban on NDTV India is enforced or not. Political leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Yogendra Yadav among others have called for people and other media organisations to show their solidarity with the channel too. Prime Minister Narendra Modi however, has not made any statement on the issue so far.