REVOKING THE 48-hour ban imposed on Friday evening on two Malayalam news channels — Asianet News and Media One News — for their coverage of the Delhi riots, the government said on Saturday that it “values press freedom” and indicated that its officials may have erred in drafting the notices.
While Asianet News was back on air at 1 am Saturday, Media One News resumed telecast at 9.30 am.
Speaking to The Sunday Express in Pune, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said the two television channels had violated the broadcasting code of conduct, but the notices issued to them were not properly worded.
The two separate orders, citing alleged violations of the Cable TV Network (Regulations) Act, 1995, had listed “siding towards a particular community” and being “critical towards Delhi Police and RSS” among the reasons.
“We have now asked the officers concerned how this happened. The notice sent to the two media channels should have restricted itself to only mentioning that the code of conduct was not followed. There is a code of conduct for news channels which expects them not to disclose names of places of worship (during riots),” Javadekar said.
“We immediately found out what actually happened, and therefore, we restored the channels. Our basic thought process is that press freedom is absolutely essential in a democratic set-up and that is the commitment of the (Narendra) Modi government,” Javadekar said. He said Modi had also expressed concern over the ban order, and promised to take “essential corrective” steps if a wrongdoing was found.
Javadekar said the management of both the television channels had spoken to him. “Both the channels explained themselves and Asianet News also tendered an apology on Friday evening. Hence, valuing press freedom, we took immediate action, and restored the channels,” he said.
“But let me also tell that you that everyone accepts that press freedom has to be exercised in a responsible fashion. We do hope that media will exercise responsible freedom,” he said.
Media One News is owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited which is backed by Jamaat-e-Islami.
Asianet News is indirectly owned by BJP Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar. Chandrasekhar owns RC Stocks and Securities Pvt Ltd, Jupiter Global Infrastructure and Minsk Developers Pvt Ltd, which together own Jupiter Capital, which owns Asianet News Network Pvt Ltd that runs Asianet News.
In Kerala, Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said: “The BJP has always stood for freedom of press. Media has the responsibility to obey rules. Action came after they violated regulations. As Asianet News has tendered apology, telecast has been resumed. There is no two-justice system for two channels. Hence, the ban on Media One was revoked.”
But Asianet News Editor M G Radhakrishnan said: “We haven’t tendered any apology… Let him (Muraleedharan) say what he wants’’. Sources in Asianet News said “a board representative” was involved in talks with the “I&B ministry and the minister himself”.
In a statement, Radhakrishnan said: “In India, before a person is being declared guilty or innocent, our democratic set-up ensures him the right to go through a legal process. It is really unfortunate (that) we were denied the right for such a process before the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting initiated the action banning the channel for 48 hours. Any ban that is being foisted, without the right to go through such a legal process, is denial of natural justice. That is the hallmark of pressure tactics and partisan approach.”
“Media One has not made any request seeking lifting of the ban. It may be the protest of the people and the support people have given to the channel after the ban, that prompted the government to revoke the decision,’’ said Media One Editor-in-Chief C L Thomas. “We haven’t approached the government after the ban. We were planning to move the court,’’ he said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the ban was an indication of a dangerous trend. “An undeclared emergency situation prevails in the country. The Centre has encroached upon free press. There is a threat that if RSS and Sangh Parivar are criticised, a lesson would be taught. It should be realised that the threat would engulf the entire media spectrum tomorrow,’’ he said. “Which law book has stated that RSS is a holy organisation? How is criticising RSS illegal,’’ he said.
In its orders on Friday, the I&B Ministry had said: “It appeared that telecast of reports on North-East Delhi violence had been shown in a manner which highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community”.
In its order against Media One news, the I&B Ministry said: “Channel’s reporting on Delhi violence seems to be biased as it is deliberately focusing on the vandalism of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) supporters… It also questions RSS and alleges Delhi Police inaction. Channel seems to be critical towards Delhi Police and RSS.”
In its order against Asianet News, the ministry cited the “anchor/ correspondent” as reporting that “the Union Ministry claimed that 33 company central forces were deployed but still violence continues in the area and also the Centre gave silent consent for the violence”.
It also pointed to a report that the “violence of the previous day had continued from morning” and “turned into communal violence after a group of Hindu people chanted Jai Sri Ram and the Muslims chanted Azadi slogans. The commuters on the roads are forced to chant Jai Sri Ram. Muslims are brutally attacked… The Centre can control the violence within hours, but no action has been taken till now… the Centre give silent consent for the violence”.
The ministry said the channels appeared to have contravened rules 6(1)(C) and 6(1)(a) of the Cable Television Networks Rules. These rules prohibit channels from showing any programme “which contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes” and “is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes”.
The ministry said it had issued showcause notices to both channels on February 28, and took the decision to impose the ban after receiving their responses on March 3.
In their replies to the showcause notices, both the channels had said the reports were done with journalistic rigour, after talking to people on the ground, and it is the media’s duty to report facts.