Govt on NDTV ban: Nation comes first

Amidst an attack on the government from Opposition and media organisations over its decision of a one-day ban on the NDTV India news channel, the BJP defended the order saying: “Nation comes first”. The BJP stated that it respects freedom of the press, but national security cannot be compromised. Arguing in favour of the one-day token ban, the Information and Broadcasting ministry stated the channel had revealed “sensitive details” like the location of the ammunition depot and the place where the terrorists were held up, location of the school and residential areas.
The committee’s order, dated November 2, refers to NDTV’s news telecast between 12:25 and 12:31 hours on January 4, 2016, while counter operations by the security forces were still on at the Pathankot airbase. It states that the reporter on the ground, while replying to questions posed by the anchor, gave out “strategically-sensitive information”.
Officials at the I&B Ministry asserted that the media outrage was unjustified as it is not the first time that a TV channel has been ordered off the air for a day. They said the TV channels had been blacked out 28 times over the past decade for violating the broadcasting norms, though most of these cases related to airing adult content. They said the punitive action was taken even during the UPA regime since as many as 20 channels were taken off air between 2005 and 2013, mostly for flouting rules against nudity and adult content. Al Jazeera was barred from airing for five days in 2015 for showing a wrong map of India and FTV taken off air thrice between 2007 and 2010 and for 10 days in 2013. The officials said it was not only the live coverage for which NDTV India is being penalised but also because it had aired “strategically-sensitive” details of the Pathankot airbase including the ammunitions and aircraft stationed, as well as location of schools and residential areas.
They said this crucial information could have been readily picked up by the terrorist’s handlers, when the operation was still going on. This could have jeopardised National Security and also the lives of civilians and defence personnel.
Several media bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, Broadcasters’ Association and the Press Club of India condemned the decision terming the government order, as a reminder of the Emergency. They demanded immediate withdrawal of the ban.
Official sources said banning the channel for a day was a token punishment since the IMC was initially contemplating to keep it
off air for 30 days. The provisions of the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act state that 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 an operation concludes.
Rejecting NDTV India’s argument of being singled out amid other TV channels who had also given out the same information, a top official from the I&B ministry said, it’s like saying everybody violates traffic rules but why fine one.
NDTV, however, refuted the allegations, saying it was “examining all options”. Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi described the one-day ban as “shocking and unprecedented.”
ON Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) Observations
TV as an audio/visual medium has a far wider and instantaneous impact. Disclosure of sensitive information specially when anti-terrorist operations are underway, has several ramifications such as
o Causing alarm and de-moralisation of citizens and security forces.
o Collateral damage on critical assets including human lives.
o Apprehensions to families of those serving in combat zones.
o Information given by the channel was neither based on nor limited to the information given in the media briefing by designated officers (press briefing conducted by DIG, NSG).
o Since this was the first instance of violation of newly inserted provisions in the program code regarding coverage of terrorist operations, a one day token cut was recommended to ensure that the channel do not get away completely for this huge indiscretion and violation of rules

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