Thou shalt not speak of Rs 9 lakh suits: I&B ministry issues notice to GSTV for ‘maligning’ esteemed leader
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) issued a show-cause notice to GSTV, a Gujarati television channel for what it deems to be ‘a deliberate attempt to malign’ the reputation of a leader, made in a 30 January programme titled Gandhi Hatya Koni Jawabdari? (Who is responsible for Gandhi's death?)
And so it’s come to this.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) issued a show-cause notice to a Gujarati television channel for what it deems to be ‘a deliberate attempt to malign’ the reputation of a leader, made in a 30 January programme titled Gandhi Hatya Koni Jawabdari? (Who is responsible for Gandhi's death?).
The Economic Times reports that GSTV was served a show-cause notice by the I&B Ministry on 2 February following the airing of the programme in question on the 67th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. What appears to have caused the affront is a comparison made in the programme between Gandhi’s simple lifestyle and the leader’s rather less austere ‘suit worth Rs nine lakh’ and ‘expensive cars’.
The report quotes the ministry’s notice as stating that “(w)hile the channel has every right to question the conduct of a political leader, the way it has criticised him in the news item seems a deliberate attempt to malign his reputation which is repugnant of the esteemed office he holds” (emphashis added). In other words, criticism is allowed, but the way you criticise must be I&B Ministry-approved.
However, what the television programme actually appears to have sought to do was to criticise fringe groups attempt to glorify Nathuram Godse — Gandhi’s assassin — and blame the government for not taking action against such elements. While reflecting on Gandhi’s message, the channel reportedly names no politicians but states that the Father of the Nation’s thoughts ‘cannot be taken forward by wearing expensive suits or waving brooms’.
The notice went on to add that the channel questions whether the leader who ‘initiated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, actually believes in Gandhian ideology or if “he (is) just using his name to earn respect”. The 2 February notice also makes an ominous observation: The channel’s comments, it states, “are not only bound to sully the image of the individual but may also potentially incite violent tendencies which may not be conducive to law and order situation”.
As opposed to those violent tendencies that are conducive to law and order, presumably.
Unfortunately, this is only one among a series of show-cause notices being slapped against news channels for ‘maligning’ political leaders. In May this year, a notice was served to Tamil news channel Sathiyam TV for appearing to “malign and slander the Prime Minister which was repugnant to the esteemed office that he holds”. And before that, in March, it was Telugu channel TV9 that was issued a notice for targeting the chief minister of Telangana, in a satirical show called Bullet News.
GSTV is yet to hear about the results of the I&B Ministry’s inquiry into their programme, but Shreyans Shah, director, GSTV, told The Economic Times that his channel had done nothing wrong. “We were only trying to say the glorification of Godse should be strictly checked. We have not taken names and we respect the heads of the country. But aren't we allowed to express our opinion?” he asked.
Regarding the names to which Shah alluded, the show-cause notice against GSTV and the report in The Economic Times stop short of mentioning the leader in question. But they did drop a few hints:
This leader initiated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
This leader holds an ‘esteemed office’.
This leader wears a suit worth Rs nine lakh and moves in expensive cars.
This leader praises Mahatma Gandhi in several forums.
Does that sound like someone you recognise?
No, us neither.