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Gag order: Govt blinks, news channels’ united front pays off

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Gag order: Govt blinks, news channels’ united front pays off

‘United we stand’ was the route that the Indian news broadcasters have taken to tackle the curb imposed on the news broadcasting industry, wherein the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) proposed amendments to the Cable Television Network Rules without taking into consideration the views of the media fraternity.

In a rare show of unity on January 13, 2009, all key editors of mainstream news channels wrote to the Prime Minister, who also holds the portfolio of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting at the Cabinet, articulating that the MIB’s decision to amend the Cable TV Act equated to a gag order on Indian media. All news channels also broke away from their regular programming on the day and telecast their stand on the development at 8.00 pm across news channels.

An inkling of the good news came on January 14, 2009, when the Prime Minister’s Office assured that there would be the widest consultation from all stakeholders before anything was finalised on the Cable TV Act.

All editors have welcomed the move and have also stated and they looked forward to any closure that had to come on this subject soon.

Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief, Times Now, stated, “I am delighted that the Government seems to see reason in this entire matter. You cannot with one brush stroke take away the fundamental independence of the TV news media, nor can you use one or two examples from one event coverage to censor the media. The editors have solidarity on the subject, and the Government saw merit in the point that the news broadcasters have made. A response coming from the Prime Minister, at his level, is very positive.”

A delegation of television editors also met UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on January 14, 2009, who gave the assurance that she would bring this to the Government’s notice. She said that she and the Congress party believed that the freedom of the press should not be compromised. She assured that a via media should be found to solve the problem.

Some other names that the news broadcasters lobbied with included Amar Singh, Prakash Karat, Rajnath Singh and Ahmed Patil, among others.

Echoing Goswami’s sentiments, Rajat Sharma, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India TV, said, “I am happy that the Prime Minister has decided to put on hold the proposed gag order. It would open avenues for media and the Government to work together, and trust self-regulation. Need of the hour is not Government control, but initiating a process to train and educate both sides to handle situations like the terror attacks.”

From ‘No Conversation’ to ‘No Decision until Consultation’

The official statement from the TV editors, issued on January 14, 2008, said: “TV editors welcomed the Government’s response and said they looked forward to complete closure of this issue so that such regulation never comes into force.”

Earlier in the day, the release from the PMO office had said, “The Prime Minister has received several representations from the media agencies regarding certain proposed changes in the Cable Television Network Rules, currently under consideration. He has assured that the matter will be taken up for finalisation only after the widest possible consultation with all the stakeholders and eliciting their different points of view on the proposed changes.”

The situation preceding the developments on January 13 and January 14, 2009, saw the MIB almost take a stand that the Cable TV Network Rules Act would be amended, and that there was no looking back on the move. Sources close to the situation had informed that the MIB had refused any discussion on the matter.

The PM’s statement has elated the industry in the light of these developments. NDTV’s Barkha Dutt reiterated the sentiments of the editors and said, “We are really heartened that both the Prime Minister and the Congress President and major Opposition leaders like LK Advani have committed themselves to maintaining the freedom of the media. We all believe that strengthening self-regulation is the way forward.”

For those who have been observing this space over the past few years, the last few days give a sense of déjà vu. The MIB, under the leadership of the various Ministers and Secretaries that it has seen in the last couple of years, has at some point or the other tried to force restrictions on the news media; on this occasion, the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks was the backdoor entry to retry this effort.

It is obvious that news channels have exercised their stand in the overall media scenario to bring about a change in this MIB decision. All the key names of television journalism have come together on this issue. The solidarity that news broadcasters have shown is one positive aspect that has came out from this development, the other positive aspect for the news media fraternity is that they have got together and done it for themselves this time, without just relying on support from other industry bodies.

Also read:

Suspend the proposed curbs, news channels urge Prime Minister


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