South Asia | Modi under fire after 24-hour ban on two TV channels
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced the TV ban just a day after he had attended a media awards ceremony and hailed freedom of the press. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced the TV ban just a day after he had attended a media awards ceremony and hailed freedom of the press. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Modi under fire after 24-hour ban on two TV channels

Editors and opposition parties describe the move as an attack on media freedom, while the government says citizens come first, then journalists

November 7, 2016 10:20 AM (UTC+8)

Two of India’s TV news channels will be banned for a day on November 9 for violating broadcasting rules.

NDTV’s Hindi channel is being banned for live coverage of a terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in Punjab early this year, while News Time Assam will be taken off air for revealing the identity of a minor who was tortured while working as a domestic servant.

Ironically, the November 3 announcement of the ban on NDTV came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended a media awards ceremony at which he hailed press freedom, honored journalists, and denounced the Emergency (from June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977) under the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government when elections were suspended, civil liberties were curbed, political opponents jailed and the press was censored.

Approving the ban on NDTV’s Hindi channel, the Inter Ministerial Committee said the station’s live coverage revealed strategically-sensitive details such as the anti-terror operation, the location of the attackers, as well as pinpointing an ammunition depot, school and residential areas on the air force base.

Handlers of the terrorists could have easily passed these details to them thereby putting the lives of security forces personnel and civilians at risk.

The panel viewed the live telecast as a serious threat to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the nation.

According to broadcasting regulations, live telecasts of anti-terrorist operations by security forces are banned, while coverage of such operations is restricted to periodic briefings by the relevant officials.

Indian security personnel at Pathankot Air Force base after the attack by terrorists on January 2, 2016. Photo: AFP
Indian security personnel at Pathankot Air Force base after the attack by terrorists on January 2, 2016. Photo: AFP

Seven security forces personnel and four terrorists were killed in the Pathankot attack.

NDTV said its coverage was balanced and questioned why it was singled out since most channels and newspapers had similar coverage.

The Editors’ Guild of India and opposition parties described the federal government’s move as an attack on media freedom.

One columnist said India was now under an undeclared Emergency. The columnist made reference to Modi’s comments at the awards function in New Delhi on November 2, where he said: “Every generation must keep reflecting on the Emergency period in an unbiased manner so that no future political leader can even wish to commit the same sin.”

Defending the government, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Venkaiah Naidu said on Sunday the campaign against the ban on NDTV was politically motivated.

National interest

Addressing Urdu journalists at a training program in Hyderabad, Naidu said media freedom is not above national interests. He said citizens come first, then journalists.

Earlier in the day, he said the previous UPA government had also expressed similar concerns after live media coverage of the 26/11 terror attacks on multiple targets in Mumbai in 2008.

The Supreme Court at the time criticized the electronic media saying their live coverage of 26/11 served neither the national interest nor any social cause.

Due to their reckless coverage, plotters of terror across the border could follow the movements of security forces and communicate them to the terrorists.

While competing to gain maximum viewers, channels then made the task of the security forces difficult, dangerous and risky, the top court said.

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