The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), condemning the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to “punish” Hindi news channel, NDTV India, for allegedly revealing “strategically-sensitive” information while covering the Pathankot attack in January 2016, has said the order is “legally untenable, ethically unacceptable and factually fallacious.”
Pointing out that the decision to ban the channel’s broadcast for a day on November 9 “is reminiscent of the Emergency period when the media was muzzled and is a chilling reminder that the present BJP-led NDA government will not hesitate to crush freedom of the media”, PUCL says, it “suits” the Modi government’s “political interest to prevent dissent and democratic criticism.”
“The Ministry based its decision on an Inter-Ministerial Committee which rejected the reply of NDTV India”, the top human rights organization, founded by Jay Prakash Narayan, says, adding, “The government had accused NDTV of compromising national security by providing details about the location of terrorists, civilian dwellings, fuel and ammunitions dump during the Pathankot coverage.”
“The NDTV, in its defence, had pointed out with facts and evidence that the allegation was unsustainable and unjustified as the information had already been made public and published by print media and electronic media before its telecast”, the PUCL statement, signed by its president Prof Prabhakar Sinha and general secretary Dr V Suresh, says.
“The punitive action against NDTV India smacks of arbitrariness, discrimination and clearly exhibits the true intent of the NDA Government to crush anyone from critically questioning the government’s policies, programmes and actions”, it says, adding, “The vindictive action against NDTV India is thus a warning to other media agencies of the fate that awaits them if they challenged the government’s line.”
The PUCL statement comes close on the heels of the Editors’ Guild outlining the “threat” posed by the government’s action, saying that by “imposing a ban without resorting to judicial intervention or oversight violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice...”
The Editors’ Guild also says, “The first-of-its-kind order to impose a blackout has seen the Central government entrust itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action as and when it does not agree with the coverage”.
According to PUCL, the decision against NDTV is in continuation of the “the very first decision of the Modi-led government soon after being elected to power in May 2014 to take vindictive action against NGOs, especially environmental NGOs and other rights organizations which had challenged different private industrial and development projects.”
The government, it says, talked of “national economic security” in order to “ban” them, adding, “Since then, the government has politically sought to crush all dissent groups and critics of the regime by dubbing them as threats to ‘national security’ and criminalising dissent, falsely prosecuting rights defenders under the dreaded and anti-people Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act, sec. 124A (anti-sedition law) and so on.”
Calling upon “all democratic sections of society to immediately raise their voices”, the PUCL says, time has come for citizens “to continuously remain vigilant and oppose all anti-democratic and anti-human rights actions and decisions of the government (both central and state) so that our precious fundamental rights and freedoms are not crushed, emasculated and denied.”