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Govt hands NDTV India 24-hr ban for breach of content code

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MUMBAI: In what is being viewed in certain quarters as an assault on media freedom reminiscent of Rajiv Gandhi government’s bid to gag media in late 1980s, the Prannoy Roy and family-controlled NDTV India, has been directed by the government to go off air for 24 hours from 9 November 2016 as a penalty for breaching telecast norms related to security issues.

NDTV is exploring all options against this 24-hour ban with opinion split on the issue. While a section of views on social media supported the government action, many who part of the Indian media criticised it saying it reminded them of Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency in India in 1977.

Confirming the recent development, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) sources said that Hindi news channel NDTV India has been accused of airing images and revealing information regarding defence locations while covering the Pathankot terrorist attack a few months back. The sources added that NDTV India was given a chance by an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) of the government to put forth its viewpoint on the allegations and was found wanting.

Indiantelevision.com made futile attempts to get in touch with NDTV for independent reactions, including newly-anointed group CEO KVL Narayan Rao and his predecessor Vikram Chandra.
However, in a statement put out by NDTV on its website (http://www.ndtv.com/communication/ndtv-statement-on-order-against-our-hi...), the company said, “The order of the MIB has been received. It is shocking that NDTV has been singled out in this manner. Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact NDTV's coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the Emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner. NDTV is examining all options in this matter.”

The IMC, the government sources said, was earlier in favour of handing out a one-month ban, which was diluted to 24 hours later.
The matter pertains to the coverage of Pathankot defence areas after a terrorist attack in January this year. The IMC has blamed NDTV India of providing on-air information about ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, fighter-planes, rocket-launchers, fuel-tanks, etc. The committee felt that such crucial information could have been readily picked by up by hostile nations and could have compromised lives of civilians and defence personnel.

The committee has also mentioned that the channel appeared to give out the exact locations of terrorists on air, thus compromising counter offensives by India.
In its reply, the channel said that it was a case of subjective interpretation and most of the information they had put out was already in public domain in print, electronic and social media.

A section of Indian media reacted strongly against such a government move.

“Govt pulling TV news channels off air is a dangerous trend. Don't want sarkari babus deciding what content they like and what they don't,” India Today (TV) and Aaj Tak Managing Editor Rahul Kanwal tweeted.

A former NDTV star and presently with India Today group, Rajdeep Sardesai, said in a series of tweets, “One of India's most sober and responsible channels NDTV India to be banned for a day by I and B ministry. NDTV today, who tomorrow? Media should be accountable, scrutinised, but with transparency and not selectively.”



Shekhar Gupta, former editor of the Indian Express Group and presently anchoring a digital news venture, said in a tweet, “What's shocking is lack of protest/outrage. Reprehensible, somebody in Ind(ia) having power to ban news channels as in Pak(istan). Tom(orrow), it'll be print.”



Meanwhile in an another development, the NBSA (News Broadcasting Standards Authority), the self-regulatory body of news channels under the News Broadcasters’ Association ( NBA) late last month asked NDTV, the English news channel,  to air an apology covering for showing an incorrect map of India

The letter from NBA to NDTV stated the complaint was studied and the channel was directed to run an apology (full screen) prior to 9 pm on 5 November.

While  NBA refused to comment on this matter, it is learnt that MIB had forwarded to NBSA complaints received by it from people, especially by one person who had taken up this issue on social media in a big way.

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