An inter-ministerial committee of the Information and Broadcast Ministry has recommended that the leading Hindi news channel NDTV India to be taken off the air for a day on 9 November after it concluded that the broadcaster had revealed "strategically-sensitive" details while covering the Pathankot terrorist attack.
Following the ban, the channel issued a statement saying that it was "shocking" to see the channel being singled out and recalled the "dark days of the Emergency".
Now, the Editors Guild of India has come out strongly condemning the government's move.
In a statement, the guild said that the I&B Ministry's decision is "a direct violation of the freedom of the media and therefore the citizens of India and amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency" and said it " violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice".
Statement by the Editors Guild of India on the order to shutdown NDTV. pic.twitter.com/Pk78wRQiWQ
— Sushant Singh (@SushantSin) November 4, 2016
The matter pertains to the coverage of the Pathankot terror attack by the channel where the committee felt that "such crucial information" could have been readily picked by terrorist handlers and had the potential to "cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defence personnel."
When the operation was on in January this year, it allegedly revealed information on the ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, MIGs, fighter-planes, rocket-launchers, mortars, helicopters, fuel-tanks etc. "which was likely to be used by the terrorists or their handlers to cause massive harm," the sources said.
Official sources said that as the content appeared to be violative of the programming norms, a show cause notice was issued to the channel.
In its reply, the channel replied that it was a case of "subjective interpretation" and the most of the information they had put out was already in public domain in print, electronic and social media.
The committee, in its order, however, observed that the channel "appeared to give out the exact location of the remaining terrorists with regard to the sensitive assets in their vicinity" when they telecast in real time.
The panel expressed "grave concern" that this was a matter of national security and that the channel had revealed sensitive details like location of ammunition depot viz-a-viz the space where the terrorists were holed up, location of school and residential areas.
"Such crucial information could have been readily picked by their handlers, which had the potential to cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to the lives of civilians and defence personnel," the committee said disagreeing with the channel's contention that similar content was carried by newspapers.
The television as an audio-visual medium has a far wider and instantaneous impact, the order said.
"The IMC recommends that at least a token penalty of one day's off-air needed to be awarded to the TV channel so that they do not get away completely for this huge indiscretion and violation of specific rule or guideline relating to national security concerns," the I&B ministry order in this regard says.
The committee has observed that the violation stood proven beyond doubt, the order said and added that it could even attract a penalty of taking the channel off-air for 30 days.
However, it was factored that a rule in this regard had been introduced in June 2015 and this was the first such case where it was being applied to and not make the penalty harsh, it is learnt.
"The ministry has issued advisories and sensitised channels regarding coverage of anti-terror operations. There have been oral warnings also. It is hoped that strategically sensitive details will not be revealed when such an operation is underway," a senior official said.
With inputs from PTI