The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India issued orders to a leading Hindi news channel, NDTV India, to cease broadcast for 24 hours on Nov 9 for reporting sensitive information while covering the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase in January this year.
NDTV India was accused of broadcasting sensitive and crucial information that could have posed a grave threat to civilians and defense personnel. The channel revealed the number of terrorists and where they were hiding and also the army’s plans to take them down.
“…Such crucial information could have been readily picked by terrorist handlers and had the potential to cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defence personnel,” the government order said.
The channel expressed shock and said that it had been “singled out”. NDTV argues that these supposed violations were subjective and a majority of the information shown was already making the rounds on social media as well as print.
There have been myriad reactions to the ban. The Editor’s Guild of India has criticized the decision as a hindrance to freedom of speech and expression. It has strongly denounced the imposition and demanded the government lift the ban. Chief ministers of different states have also shown disapproval of the government’s orders. Mamta Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, said that the imposition showed an emergency-like attitude. Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of Congress and other leaders termed this act as authoritarian, shocking and unprecedented. The Left parties also strongly condemned the act and termed it ‘an undeclared emergency’.
This is the first time that an Indian news channel is facing a legal ban for reporting terror attacks.
Justice Markandeya Katju on Saturday said that the ban was illegal. “I spoke just now with Ravish Kumar of NDTV, and told him that the one day ban on NDTV was illegal.” he wrote in his blog Satyam Bruyat.
The ban has been imposed under Rule 6 (1)(p) of the Programme Code of the Cable TV Network Rules 1994. According to the rule, “No programme should be carried in the cable service which contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces, wherein media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate Government…, till such operation concludes.”
“Live coverage means showing scenes of security forces searching or pursuing terrorists, or fighting with them. Mere reporting about anti terrorist operations is not live coverage. NDTV had only reported about anti terrorist operations, but had not shown any scenes of security forces chasing or fighting with terrorists. So there was no live coverage. The ban was therefore clearly illegal.” wrote Justice Katju in his blog.