New Delhi: Government’s one day long ban on leading television news channel NDTV India has sparked protests across the country. Many are calling it a black day in the history of media in the country, while many others are comparing it to black days of emergency.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has said that the television channel has been asked to go off the air airing “strategically sensitive details” during the Pathankot terror attack.
The ministry said that the channel will go off the air from the midnight of November 8 to midnight of November 9 for allegedly breaching broadcast norms in its coverage of the January 2 terror attack on the IAF base in Punjab.
Media organizations and human rights activists are denouncing the move as anti-constitutional. Rallying behind the news channel, the Editors Guild of India, the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA), the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and the All India Newspaper Editors Conference (AINEC) all condemned the government decision that came after the recommendation of an inter-ministerial panel instituted by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
In the meantime the Editors Guild said it was an “unprecedented decision” that violated the freedom of the media and therefore of the citizens of India. “(It) amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency,” it said. The Guild said the central government with this decision had entrusted itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action when it did not agree with the coverage.
On the other hand the NDTV in a statement strongly refuted the charges and said it “is examining all options” to challenge the government order likened to Emergency days in India, which ranks 133 among 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. “Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact NDTV’s coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the Emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner,” the NDTV said.
The action is being criticized by other organizations too. Echoing the concern, the BEA demanded an immediate withdrawal of the order while NBA wondered why the government singled out NDTV when other channels also covered the terror attack and “all such reports were available in the public domain”. The Indian Journalists Union said the government action “portended coming back of the dark days of Emergency when the media was gagged”. The Mumbai Press Club, which represents over 2,500 journalists, said the decision “does not augur well for freedom of expression of the country”.