Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s decision to ban NDTV India for a day appears to have not gone down well with the media fraternity. On Thursday, it was reported that NDTV India will be shut down on November 9 as a form of punishment due to its objectionable coverage of the Pathankot terror attacks. It is alleged that the channel compromised national security by giving away locations of terror suspects inside the air base.
Veteran broadcaster Vinod Dua had a long innings with NDTV India. According to Dua, NDTV India is among the most responsible Hindi news channels in the country. “It is a conservative, neat and clean family channel that has never indulged in screaming and shouting,” he said.
He specified that the channel had even stayed clear of spinning stories around snakes and ghosts which many Hindi channels do. Reacting to the ban, he stated, “On the face of it, it is absolutely draconian. Banning a news channel is severe and extreme.”
The popular television presenter stressed that the role of I&B Ministry should at best be reduced to some kind of “regulatory mechanism”. Citing 26/11, he brought to notice the coverage of some channels that helped handlers of terrorists sitting in Pakistan. At that time, there was debate on deferred coverage of events affecting national security.
“You can take those measures but banning a channel is an extreme step. It is an undeclared emergency,” he concluded. The channel was also fiercely backed by Vinod Sharma. “They only reported what was said by a Brigadier,” claimed Sharma, Political Editor at Hindustan Times. He mentioned that the information in question was also aired by other channels but no action has been taken against them.
Labelling NDTV as a broadcaster of long standing with a good reputation, he added, “The government is bringing issues like exercise of journalistic freedom in focus by banning NDTV.” Even Hartosh Singh Bal sounded unconvinced of the government’s decision.
“There has been far worse coverage of Kashmir by Times Now and Zee News. I don’t see the government acting on that,” said The Caravan’s Political Editor. The magazine’s publisher Paresh Nath, who heads Delhi Press, was furious at what had transpired. As per Nath, the punishment that is being handed out by I&B Ministry is way beyond their purview.
He stated that such a punishment can only be given by a court of law after a trial. Expressing his faith in the Indian Constitution, he said, “Article 19 (1)(A) will protect NDTV. They should immediately approach the Supreme Court.” He maintained that speech is free in the country whether it is inside or outside of parliament or transmitted via print or loudspeakers.
Shoma Chaudhury was associated with Tehelka when the magazine faced the wrath of the central government after exposing the then BJP President Bangaru Laxman. Much like Tehelka, NDTV has had a difficult relationship with the ruling dispensation. When asked about the motive behind the ban, Chaudhury said, “I don’t know about old scores and intentions but what has happened is untenable for a democracy.”
She opined that the government could have resorted to official reprimand of the channel for irresponsible coverage. “For a government to ban a media outfit is completely out of line unless there is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts which can be proved,” said the former Editor-in-Chief of Catch News.
Other public figures including commentators, lawyers and politicians took to Twitter to condemn the ban.
NDTV had not officially responded to the ban at the time of filing of this news report. However, sources revealed to exchange4media that lawyers of the network are examining the issue.