A ban on the leading news channel of India, NDTV, has stirred many questions. An order has been passed by the Information & Broadcasting ministry which restricts any transmission of NDTV India for a period of 24 hours starting from 00:01hrs on 9th November 2016 till 00:01 hrs on 10th November 2016. This move by the central government has been questioned as well as highly criticized by journalists, citizens, and the opposition parties. But what caused the center to take this step? Is this situation the same as the situation in 1975 Emergency in India? Is freedom of media violated? Or is media responsible for it?
The I & B ministry has proclaimed that the ban is issued to safeguard national interests. It also says that NDTV broadcasted sensitive data such as the location of the ammunition area, schools and nearby residential areas in the Pathankot terror attack. The location of the terrorists were also revealed on television. These revelations could have been preferred by the terrorists’ handlers and compromised the national security as well as the security of civilians and defense personnel.
A similar ban on the press was introduced in 1975. The then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, declared a state of emergency across the country. The emergency came into effect on 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977. The period was considered as a dark phase for the Indian Press. Hours after the emergency was declared, the electrical supply to all the leading newspapers, were shut down and after a few days, censorship was imposed on newspapers. The main reason was to clip the wings of the press. A code of conduct for formulated for journalists and government nominees were assigned to boards of newspaper houses. The emergency aimed at maintaining national security and improvising work efficiency. However, this censorship deprived the citizens of any knowledge about the events that occurred in those 21 months.
When national security is endangered, the government is forced to take an action. According to the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act, under Rule 6(1)(p), no program should disseminate live coverage of anti-terrorist operations by security forces. Media coverage should only be restricted to a time to time briefing by an official assigned by the government till, the operation terminates. While few opposition parties strongly oppose the government’s decision, they term this action as authoritarianism and intimidation. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee showed a strong disapproval for government’s decision and said that this situation reminded them of the emergency-like situation in the country. Furthermore, the Editors Guild of India strongly condemns this action and demands the order, to be immediately retracted. They also added that the freedom of media is contravened for the citizens of India. However, the UPA government had issued 21 orders against news channels since its government in 2005 but this is the first such order which has compromised the national security.
With NDTV, two more channels have been ordered to go off-air. News Time Assam will be banned for 24 hrs on 9th November. The regional channel had violated multiple program guidelines including the revelation of the identity of a minor who was tortured while working as a house help. This disclosure compromised the privacy of the child and exposed him to stigma. Careworld TV has also been banned for seven days starting from, 9th November by the ministry. Broadcasting objectionable content followed the ban on Careworld TV.
The disclosure of sensitive information can cause several ramifications such as collateral damage to critical assets, demoralization of citizens, alarms. As far as freedom of media is concerned, is it more important than the national security and therefore, citizen’s security? The question can have multiple answers under one umbrella. However, this move will ensure the safety of citizens and a thought about what information should media disclose. Media helps us to stay abreast of the current affairs, but if this information is indirectly helping the terror organizations and invading the privacy of an individual, then media should refrain from such disclosure.