NDTV Ban Issue

What is the issue?

  • Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had imposed one day ban on Hindi channel NDTV India over its live coverage of the Pathankot terror attack for violating Programme/Advertising Code.
  • Later, ministry has put on hold its order.
  • An Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) had found that NDTV India channel had violated the provisions of the programme code, specifically, clause (rule) 6 (1) (p) of the code, in its live coverage of the Pathankot terrorist attack on 4 January 2016.
  • The live coverage by the channel may have given away sensitive information and could have helped the terrorists.
  • The IMC comprised of joint secretaries Home, Defence, I&B, External Affairs, Law and Justice, Health and Family Welfare, Consumer Affairs, Women and Child Development and representative of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
What is the main allegation ?
According to the I&B Ministry, the channel broadcast a report which stated that two terrorists were alive and were very close to the ammunition depot. The government said this gave away sensitive information and could have helped the terrorists.
What NDTV says?
NDTV claims that all such information was already in the public domain, already reported by newspapers and by other news channels. The channel also said it reported after briefings by various officers at different times, and based on already available reports.
What is Programme Code?
  • The Programme/Advertising Code of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 has been incorporated in the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
  • The code gives the Union Government the power to block the transmission and re-transmission of any channel in the country. It is binding on all cable networks.
  • It has been taken from Content code governing All India Radio (AIR) which has been framed around restrictions to free speech under 19 (2) of the Constitution.
  • For the violation of this code, 30 channels have been ordered to be banned for periods ranging from 1 day to 2 months between 2005 and November 2016.
Note: There are no content-specific laws or binding rules for the print media and nor they require licence to publish a newspaper.
What is clause 6 (1) (p) of the Programme Code?
  • The clause 6(1)(p) was introduced by an amendment to The Cable Television Network Rules in 2014 by the Union Government and it came into force in March 2015.
  • It prohibits live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces.
  • In these cases, media coverage will be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate Government till such operation concludes.
When was this Rule introduced?
The point 6(1)(p) was introduced by an amendment to The Cable Television Network Rules last year, which came into force in March 2015. Following the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, between November 2008 and March 2015, the government issued five advisories to television channels on the coverage of such incidents
What are the legal provisions regarding freedom of media in India?
  • There are no specific laws protecting the freedom of the media in India.
  • Journalists and journalism thrive on broader freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of Constitution.
  • Article 19 gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • However, the first constitutional amendment in 1951 put “reasonable restrictions” on use of Article 19.
  • The reasonable restrictions can be imposed on issues related to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Way ahead:
  • The decision by the government to make Hindi news channel NDTV India go off air for a day does set an unhealthy precedent.
  • The media does need regulation, especially in an era of “breaking news” and click-bait journalism, where responsible and fair coverage is usually the first victim of the pursuit of ratings and traffic.
  • In democracies, this should take the form of self-regulation. If that doesn’t work, as it sometimes hasn’t in India, regulation should be the domain of a quasi-judicial independent body.
  • One of journalism’s original objectives and ideals is to speak truth to power. By giving itself the powers to force news channels to go off air, the government is laying itself wide open to accusations of trying to, at worst, muzzle or, at best, influence, the news.
India is one of the few democracies in the world where defamation can be a criminal offence (in addition to being a civil one). Both traditionally offered adequate legal recourse to penalise the media. In recent times, there has been a demand from several quarters for more regulation. An independent regulator would serve that purpose. This is not the government’s job — nor is it, in any right-minded society, the government’s remit. Indian media should also strive to improve the quality of its self-regulatory institutions and frame better guidelines to deal with conflict coverage.



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