Ranjona Banerji: Was there fair reason for govt to send a showcause to news channels

11 Aug,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, an anachronism if there ever was one, issued a showcause notice against three news channels on August 7. Aaj Tak, ABP and NDTV were asked to explain why action should not be taken against them for their coverage of Yakub Memon’s hanging. Memon, an accused in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts case, was hanged at the end of July after losing all his chances for clemency.

 

The hanging set off a series of articles and comments and debates on the death penalty and the particular details of Memon’s case. Many news channels also covered details of the hanging live, although they could not show the actual event of course. There was some criticism that while Memon’s hanging was covered live, there was not enough attention paid to the funeral of former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.

 

But the “crime” committed by the channel is something else. It is “showing disrespect” to both the judiciary and the President of India. The showcause notices refer to three sections of Rule 6 of the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. The greater threat is that the channels will be stopped from broadcasting for some period of time as a punishment.

 

Press and broadcasting associations have reacted swiftly and angrily, protesting against the notice. The Mumbai Press Club, Indian Womens Press Corps, Press Club of India, Guwahati Press Club, Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists and Delhi Union of Journalists issued a joint statement condemning the move. The Broadcast Editors Association was quick to respond and the Editors Guild followed.

There is a discrepancy here in the way the practice of journalism is perceived, depending on its medium: that is, 24-hour broadcast journalism is subject to more stringent laws because of its reach and possibly its influence. This is unfortunate because no matter what you think about TV news, it cannot be less free than print. (The flip side of course is that no one cares what happens in print journalism!) It is one thing to try and stop TV channels from revealing operational details of a terrorist attack or an army response while it is going on. But it is better when news channels themselves restrict themselves. Government control and regulation has to be resisted and rejected.

But what we have here is something else and something far more dire in its larger consequences of all journalism in India. It is a government trying to impose its own views on the media and trying to stop the public from knowing about something it does not like. But the purpose of journalism is to do precisely what the government – any government – does not like. The unacceptable action taken against cartoonists under the last UPA government using the disastrous 66A provision against internet freedom is a good example of government overreach. You do not have to go as far back as the Emergency to look at government attempts to muzzle the media.

Several legal experts have also condemned this notice by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, another Emergency relic which needs to go. Oddly in this case, instead of going through regulatory bodies like NBSA or BCCC, the ministry has sent the notices directly to the channels.

Freedom of expression remains the bulwark of a free media and a proper democracy. There are laws to deal with transgressions. Government disapproval is not reason enough to invoke this or any law. You do not like what is being shown on TV, use the remote, read a book or just take a hike. There is no law that forces you to watch non-stop TV or indeed, anything that you do not like.

While there was outright condemnation of this showcause notice from most journalists, there was one noticeable exception. Sudhir Chaudhary, editor of Zee News, felt that these channels had threatened his love for the nation and deserved what they got.

He tweeted thus:

“Freedom of expression cant b used to promote terrorism/anti India sentiments.Viewers should show these channels their actual place. ‪#‎decide

I agree. Choose your channels wisely…

 

Post a Comment 

One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Was there fair reason for govt to send a showcause to news channels”

  1. ashok759 says:

    An enlightened government would use the sum total of what the media reports, notwithstanding the cracks and grime in the mirror itself, as useful feedback, a spur to course correction when the ship of state has strayed from safe waters.

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