Two prominent Malayalam-language news channels have been barred from transmission in the country for 48 hours by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for violating provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1998 while reporting on the riots in northeast Delhi last month.
Asianet News and Media One were issued showcause notices by the I&B Ministry on February 28 in connection with the reporting of their respective correspondents on the clashes that erupted in parts of northeast Delhi. Finding their responses unsatisfactory, the Ministry went on to bar the transmission of the news channels finding them violative of rules 6 (1) (c) and (e) of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1998. Both news channels displayed black screens from 7:30 pm Friday night in accordance with the ban.
The state committee of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) condemned the order of the I&B Ministry, stating that it is a move to create an emergency situation. It said that the move is an assault on the freedom of the press in the country. “Their stand that media must only report what they say is not democratic. It is not acceptable as well. The Centre must at once withdraw this order,” the KUWJ statement read.
According to the Act, Rule 6(1)(c) mandates that no programme should be carried in the cable service which contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promotes communal attitudes. Rule 6 (1)(e) provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes.
Read the I&B order here
“While reporting such critical incident, the channel (Asianet News) should have taken utmost care and should have reported it in a balanced way. Such reporting could enhance the communal disharmony across the country when the situation is highly volatile,” the I&B order on Asianet News said. The channel in its response to the showcause notice had said that the reports published by them were factual and never intended to attack religions or communities by words or gesture. It said it had been reporting on the violence with utmost care and caution in compliance with the provisions of the Act.
In response to its show cause notice, the Media One channel management maintained that the allegations made in paragraph 2 of the notice are arbitrary and unreasonable. “The actual contents of the programme reports are based on eyewitness accounts and what the journalist saw,” it said.
In a similar order, the ministry in 2016 recommended that news channel NDTV India be taken off air for 24 hours for allegedly revealing “strategically-sensitive information” during the course of its coverage of the anti-terror operations at the Pathankot airbase earlier that year.
The first-of-its-kind order had imposed a blackout prohibiting “the transmission or re-transmission of NDTV India channel for one day on any platform throughout India with effect from 00:01 hrs on 9th November to 00:01 hrs of 10th November”.
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