Comment: Gag order – a united media can put Govt on the backfoot

Some good sense has finally prevailed upon the Manmohan Singh Government. If our sources are to be believed, the Prime Minister has put on hold the proposed amendments to the Cable Bill until possibly the General Elections. It is good to see the industry united on the issue with the NBA playing a key role in mobilising opinion.

by Pradyuman Maheshwari
Published - Jan 15, 2009 7:20 AM Updated: Jan 15, 2009 7:20 AM
Comment: Gag order – a united media can put Govt on the backfoot

Some good sense has finally prevailed upon the Manmohan Singh Government. If our sources are to be believed, the Prime Minister has put on hold the proposed amendments to the Cable Bill until possibly the General Elections.

It has been a week of anger and anxiety since it dawned on the electronic media that the Government is set to nail them with a draconian revision that could play havoc with the running of all news networks.

For, the Government – as the sole provider of licences for satellite channels desirous of uplinking from India as well as that of cable and direct-to-home operators – can shut their business without notice.

On the face of things, the proposal’s intent was fair. The media can play a huge influence in molding public opinion and hence, any irresponsible transmission could lead to severe law and order problems.

However, the Government is run by politicians, a section of whom have very regressive views on the role of the press. And in order to deflect attention from their own follies, they revel in damning the media. The reason for this sudden surge of enthusiasm to blame channels is the coverage of the Mumbai siege of November 26-29, 2008. The Government’s belief is that TV news went out of hand and helped terrorists combat the commando forces. But, the fact is that if the television channels showed what they did, it was because they were allowed to do that. The Government and the law-enforcers were clueless on managing media coverage as well as what information should be put out. So, if the reporting went out of hand, the Government must blame itself and not the media.

My view on this is that the editors and channel owners needn’t have been unduly worried and lobbied with all and sundry to get the Government to take back the amendment. Politicians and the Government need the news channels a lot more than the TV journos need them. And in the run up to the polls, the Arun Jaitleys and Jayanthi Natarajans will need all the help of the privately run satellite channels. Doordarshan just doesn’t cut any ice with the kind of people the main political parties target. More importantly, no government or party can afford to displease the media.

The absence of news channels may not cause as much hardship as the unavailability of petrol across the country last week, but it’s bad enough. It was good to see the industry united on the issue with the News Broadcasters Association playing a key role in mobilising opinion.

Give it to ‘em, guys! Don’t let the Government bully you.

Also read:

Suspend the proposed curbs, news channels urge Prime Minister

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