There is no doubt about the fact that media freedom in India is limited and the situation needs to improve. In a way, maybe media freedom in India has been restricted for a long time, even before Narendra Modi assumed power.
The government order to take Hindi news channel NDTV India off air for a day over its coverage of the Pathankot attack has again sparked the debate about press freedom in India. After NDTV India, the government has also ordered that an Assam-based news channel be taken off air for a day, following the recommendations of a high-level panel which felt it had "violated" programming guidelines on more than one occasion.
So, yes media freedom is lacking in India, however, to judge that situation properly, let's compare press freedom in India to other countries.
And even though the situation can be improved a lot in India, we should also take note of the fact that press freedom is a lot worse in many other countries in the world.
In fact, an article by Prashant Jha in Hindustan Times had said that right now is the time for cautious optimism, not pessimism, in the Indian media because "the Indian media today is also larger, more plural, more heterogeneous, more accessible and more representative than it has ever been in Indian history."
Compared to the Indian media, let's take a look at what happened with some news channels in other countries.
Istanbul shut down around 20 TV and radio channels, including Kurdish channel Med-Nuçe, after a failed coup attempt was made by the army on 15 July this year. Media outlets, including international channels like CNN Turk, said they'd been forced off air, and social media experienced outages.
Around 90 journalists were put in jail, 2,500 scribes lost their jobs and arrest warrants were issued against hundreds of media workers since the failed coup attempt, according to European Federation of Journalists.
Another television station IMC TV, known for its pro-Kurdish and liberal content, was shut down in Turkey in October, according to Al Jazeera.
In September, Greece launched an auction for four private national television licenses, reducing the number from seven after a heated public debate on corruption in the financially troubled country, The Associated Press had reported. The opposition conservatives had accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government of market interference and attempting to exert state influence over private news media.
These incidents, by the way, are just examples of TV news channels facing disciplinary action by a government in a country, like the NDTV India ban.
Television license rules are a highly contentious issue in Greek politics. The previous conservative-led government had shut down public broadcaster ERT in 2013, and later replaced it with a scaled-down channel that it argued would operate more efficiently. ERT was reopened by the Tsipras government last year, and laid-off workers were reinstated.
In July this year, China also shut down various online news portals and channels like Sina, Sohu, NetEase and iFeng. Why? Because they dared to publish independent reports instead of official statements, according to BBC.
The report also said that many Chinese news sites are prohibited from reporting on political and social issues themselves and instead have to rely on reports published by the official media like state news agency Xinhua.
In February 2015, Bahrain had suspended a satellite news channel called Alarab owned by a Saudi prince on the very first day of its broadcasting because the channel had not enough to combat "extremism and terrorism", according to Reuters.
Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority (IAA) accused Alarab of failing "to match the standards of regional and international practice agreements, to take account of efforts aimed at stemming the tide of extremism and terrorism throughout the region and the world."
What the IAA conveniently did not mention, however, was how it decided in less than a day that the channel had done enough to combat terrorism, since the channel had existed for less than a day. More disturbingly, Alarab had been shut down after it had interviewed a Bahraini opposition politician.
In November 2014, Saudi Arabia had shut down Wesal TV in Riyadh, accusing it of promoting sectarian violence.
In September 2014, an Egypt court ordered a state-run satellite company to stop broadcasting the local AlJazeera channel called AlJazeera Mubasher Misr. Egypt's state-run news agency reported that the order came because the channel had allegedly broadvast "lies" about the 2013 coup which unseated Mohammed Morsi, according to Middle East Eye.
In 2010, the then Venezuelan government had taken six cable television channels, including RCTV International — openly opposed to the then President Hugo Chavez — off the air for allegedly breaking a law on trasmitting government material, according to BBC.
In September 2007, Bangladesh's then first and only 24-hour news channel, CSB, had gone off air after a team of telecom regulators visited the office and suspended its frequency allocation, IANS had reported. The move was seen as a possible fallout of its telecasts of the 20-23 August, 2007 demonstrations and violent clashes in Dhaka University and other campuses across the country, demanding an end to emergency rule at that time.
In March 2007, the Bangladesh government had asked seven private television channels to stop broadcasting for alleged faulty inception.
These incidents, by the way, are just examples of TV news channels facing disciplinary action by a government in a country, like the NDTV India ban. A lot of action has also been taken news websites and newspapers in many countries.
With inputs from agencies
First Published On : Nov 7, 2016 14:32 IST