The BJP on Friday defended the Information and Broadcasting ministry’s order to take NDTV India off air for a day over the coverage of Pathankot terror attack, saying freedom of press is important but the nation comes first, as the decision drew sharp condemnation from the Opposition. “We support freedom of press in a democracy but the nation comes first. There cannot be any compromise on national security,” BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said.
Leading the Congress attack, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Detaining opposition leaders, blacking out tv channels — all in a day’s work in Modiji’s India. #NDTVBanned-shocking & unprecedented.” His party colleague Manish Tewari said there was a proposal to take “a particular English news channel off air for its coverage of Muzaffarnagar riots” when he was I&B minister in UPA-II. “I had specifically, in the first instance, returned the file for reconsideration. In the second instance, (I) dissented from the recommendation of the inter-ministerial committee,” Tewari told The Indian Express.
Thus, “ministers, in the larger interest of freedom of speech and expression, (have) taken a view contrary to what the bureaucracy may have recommended”, he pointed out. The Left parties said the government is attempting to “control the media and compel it to report to the liking of the government”. West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “NDTV ban is shocking. If Government had issues with Pathankot coverage, there are provisions available. But ban shows an Emergency-like attitude.”
Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, “I hope the whole media goes off air for a day in solidarity wid [with] NDTV”. In a series of tweets former Bihar CM and RJD chief Lalu Prasad said, “An Emergency-like situation is prevailing in the country… Fascism is knocking on the doors of the country. The constitutional and democratic values are in danger. People who speak against the government are being arrested and banned.” In a joint statement, K C Tyagi of JD(U), D P Tripathi of NCP, D Raja of CPI and Manoj Jha of RJD called the order “atrocious and brazenly repressive”. Tyagi said opposition parties will raise the issue in Winter Session of Parliament.
Stating that he cannot recall any similar action against any news medium since the Emergency, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said, “I hope (better) sense would prevail and the government would withdraw its order.” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “It is ironic that the Prime Minister talked about Emergency and the dangers and that it should not be emulated, and at the same time all this is happening — (detaining) Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, and now this one-day ban. This is worse than what happened during Emergency.” CPI’s D Raja said, “In a way, this is an attempt to control the media and compel the media to report to the liking of the government.”
Anand Sharma, the I&B minister during UPA-I, told The Indian Express, “This cannot be taken in isolation from what is happening overall — there is increasing surveillance, they (government) are testing the ground for shackling the media by bringing in restrictions from the backdoor. They are seeking to convert India into a police state and take away liberty and freedom of expression.”
Referring to the media coverage of 2008 Mumbai attack, Tewari said the UPA government had faced difficult moments with media coverage at certain times but did not shoot the messenger. When told that the UPA had also suspended channels, Tewari said, “But not news channels.” Tewari’s predecessor Ambika Soni said, “I was an I&B minister for three-and-a-half years….(but) implementation of our Standard Operating Procedures was after warnings, and only in dire circumstances, if at all.”