MUMBAI: Two major news channels - Times Now and India News - were blacked out over the weekend in Uttar Pradesh, following their criticism of the lavish Saifai Mahotsav ceremony by the Akhilesh Yadav-run government in the state. The black out of the two channels was done following unofficial orders from government officials, local cable TV operators have confessed to the media. However, both Times Now and India News were back on most cable TV networks in the state, though the latter was was still not available in Lucknow and Faizabad, at the time of writing.
The black out has disturbed both the government and the news broadcast industry. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari candidly remarked yesterday that his ministry would fast track TRAI's recommendations on cable TV monopolies in various states to prevent operators from misusing their dominance.
Times Television Network CEO Sunil Lulla spoke to indiantelevision.com, saying that the issue was a matter of fundamental rights. “We completely echo the thoughts of the minister on monopolisation. There cannot be any arbitrariness,” he says.
India News which is a Hindi channel says that nearly 25 per cent of its viewership comes from UP. And, it lost a large part of that in the past two days. “Our channel has been switched off since 10 January and although no one is coming out in the open we have heard that they have been ordered to do so. Our channel is still missing in Lucknow and Faizabad which are important strongholds. So, we are still discussing with the local cable TV ops to get it back on as soon as possible,” says ITV Network (India News and News X) CEO R K Arora.
Some fingers have been pointed toward MSO DEN Networks which has a large share of cable TV subscribers in Uttar Pradesh for giving into government pressure and switching off the two channels. However, DEN COO M. Azhar disagrees that there was any pressure from any quarter. Pooh-poohing claims that there was a large scale blackout from his network, he says that it was restricted to only a few local cable TV operators.
“All channels are now running on our network and it was only a few people who had done it for sometime but now everything is restored,” he says.
Lulla, while agreeing that his channel has been restored, states that “a standard process needs to be followed by both the broadcaster as well as the MSO and no disconnection can be done without notice. It was probably some state officials who had jumped the gun."