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Notices to 3 TV channels: Journalists, Manish Tewari slam government move

Editors’ Guild of India, in a statement said: Those regulations were never meant to be used to stop the free and vigorous discussion of matters of public interest however disagreeable the content might be to the govt.”

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: August 9, 2015 4:27:52 am
Manish-tiwari759 Tewari said, “Section 1(g) of Rule 6 of the Programmes Code is an oxymoron. The President of India is not a holy cow that his public conduct should not be subject to scrutiny by the media and the citizenry.”

Former Information and Broadcasting Minister and Congress leader Manish Tewari joined the chorus of journalists’ bodies Saturday to condemn and seek the withdrawal of show-cause notices served by the government on three news TV channels. The channels, the government alleged, showed disrespect to the judiciary and the President by airing certain content on the day 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon was hanged.

As reported by The Indian Express, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, invoking sections of Rule 6 of the Programme Code of Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, issued separate show-cause notices on Friday to NDTV 24×7, ABP News and Aaj Tak. The channels were asked to explain within 15 days why action should not be taken against them for broadcasting such content.

Tewari told The Sunday Express, “Section 1(g) of Rule 6 of the Programmes Code is an oxymoron. The President of India is not a holy cow that his public conduct should not be subject to scrutiny by the media and the citizenry.” He said the UPA government had never issued any show-cause notice invoking this section.

Section 1(g) states: “No programme should be carried in the cable service which contains aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary.”

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According to Tewari, if courts do feel upset, they can always consider the content as contempt of court. During the UPA regime, the then government did issue advisories to channels during their coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. “But it was only an advisory. We did not issue show-cause notices under Section 1(g),” he said.

When contacted, NDTV 24×7 CEO Vikram Chandra said, “We do not think we have violated any regulations. Our coverage was fair and balanced. We are looking at the issues raised in the show-cause notice and will respond appropriately.”

Supriya Prasad, CEO, Aaj Tak, said the channel received the notice late evening and will respond soon.

In a statement, N Ravi, president of the Editors’ Guild of India, said: “It is shocking that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry should have issued notices to ABP News, NDTV and Aaj Tak for their coverage of the Yakub Memon issue under the cable TV regulations. Those regulations were never meant to be used to stop the free and vigorous discussion of matters of public interest however disagreeable the content might be to the government.”

“Yakub Memon’s case before the Supreme Court and the President and the subsequent execution were matters of widespread public interest with sharply polarised viewpoints. The discussion of the issues was obviously in the nature of political speech that should be allowed free expression without curbs. Viewpoints unacceptable to the government ought not to be penalised on the specious plea that they would incite violence or spread hatred,” Ravi said.

“The Editors’ Guild of India calls upon the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to withdraw the notices forthwith. It is also time for a re-examination of the broadcasting regulations that on the face of it look over broad and leave room for misuse in violation of the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 1(a) of the Constitution,” he said.

The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA), Press Club of India and unions of journalists also described the step as “disagreeable” and an “attempt to intimidate the media”.

The BEA, which has editors of most leading news channels as its members, said it was concerned with the increasing tendency among governments, both at the Centre and states, to serve “notices on media organisations in a selective manner”.

“We were as it is dismayed over the amendment by the Central government to the Cable Television Networks Rules through which it has sought to limit the coverage of anti-terrorist operations through periodic offerings by a government officer. There are so many unanswered questions here. While we were planning to take this up with the government, a fresh salvo has been fired in the form of notices sent to three news channels,” N K Singh, BEA general secretary, said.

“In essence, the amendment (to the Cable Television Network Rules) seems violative of media freedom, we have decided to take up the issue of show-cause notices with the government,” he said.

NDTV 24×7 had reportedly aired the interview of Yakub’s lawyer who questioned the justice, but went on to praise the Supreme Court.

The other two channels — Aaj Tak and ABP News — had reportedly broadcast phone-in interviews of Chhota Shakeel in which the gangster raised questions about the manner in which four mercy petitions were dismissed in a single day.

In a joint statement, press clubs from across the country said: “It is shameful that cable TV rules have been invoked to question the right of the media to air views or do stories that run contrary to the decisions of the government and the Supreme Court on capital punishment in general and Memon’s case in particular.”

The statement said that the show-cause notices reflected insecurity and intolerance on the part of the government. “We urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and immediately withdraw the notices,” it stated.

Can’t stop free, fair discussion: Justice Mudgal

Justice Mukul Mudgal, former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court and Chairperson of the Broadcasting Complaints Council of India, said: “Had it been a matter of anti-national activity or a matter of national security, I would have understood. But how can anyone try to stop free and fair discussion?”

 

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