The PUCL strongly condemns the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to punish Hindi news channel, NDTV India, for revealing “strategically – sensitive” information while covering the Pathankot attack in January, 2016 by ordering that the Channel close down telecast for a day between 9-10th November, 2016. The decision is reminiscent of the Emergency period when the media was muzzled and is a chilling reminder that the present BJP-led NDA government will not hesitate to crush freedom of the media, and with it the right to freedom of speech and expression of the people, if it suits their political interest to prevent dissent and democratic criticism of its policies.
The Ministry based its decision on an Inter-Ministerial Committee which rejected the reply of NDTV India. The Government had accused NDTV India of compromising national security by providing details about the location of terrorists, civilian dwellings, fuel and ammunitions dump during the Pathankot coverage in January, 2016; NDTV, in its defence, had pointed out with facts and evidence that the allegation was unsustainable and unjustified as the information had already been made public and published by print media and electronic media before its telecast. The Committee however not only rejected this as a “mitigating factor” but also recommended that NDTV India needed to be punished.
On the face of it, the decision of the Inter-ministerial Committee and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is legally untenable, ethically unacceptable and factually fallacious. It is not denied by the Ministry that several print and visual media had already made public details which NDTV India was accused of before NDTV India’s coverage. While so the punitive action against NDTV India smacks of arbitrariness, discrimination and clearly exhibits the true intent of the NDA Government to crush anyone from critically questioning the Government’s policies, programmes and actions. The vindictive action against NDTV India is thus a warning to other media agencies of the fate that awaits them if they challenged the government’s line.
The Editors Guild succinctly outlined the threat posed by the government’s action pointing out that by, “Imposing a ban without resorting to judicial intervention or oversight violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice…. This first-of-its-kind order to impose a blackout has seen the Central government entrust itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action as and when it does not agree with the coverage”.
We cannot miss sight of the fact that amongst the very first decisions of the Modi-led Central Government soon after being elected to power in May, 2014 was to take vindictive action against NGOs, especially environmental NGOs and other rights organisations which had challenged different private industrial and development projects as being anti-people and environmentally destructive,, as threatening “National economic security” by banning them. Since then, the government has politically sought to crush all dissent groups and critics of the regime by dubbing them as threats to “national security” and criminalising dissent, falsely prosecuting rights defenders under the dreaded and anti-people Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act, sec. 124A (anti-sedition law) and so on. The latest decision is now the unparalleled action to ban telecast for a day between 9-10th November, 2016.
PUCL has always believed in the indivisibility of the media’s freedom of speech and expression and that a free and independent media is a vital prerequisite of democracy. PUCL has always fought for the media’s right to freedom of speech and expression whenever governments sought to silence and curb media freedom, anywhere in the country.
The PUCL therefore calls upon all democratic sections of society to immediately raise their voices demanding a revocation of the Government of India’s decision imposing ban on telecasting by NDTV India between 9-10th November, 2016. PUCL also calls upon all other media professionals and organisations to stand unitedly and collectively express its opposition to the one-day ban on telecasting by NDTV India.
The PUCL also calls upon all citizens to continuously remain vigilant and oppose all anti-democratic and anti-human rights actions and decisions of the Government (both Central and State) so that our precious fundamental rights and freedoms are not crushed, emasculated and denied.
Prof. Prabhakar Sinha
National President, PUCL
Dr. V. Suresh,
National General Secretary, PUCL