How to cover the speech of the PM and his political rival is the prerogative of the editors, says IBN 18

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has said that TV channels “denigrated” the office of the Prime Minister on August 15 by “constantly trying to compare his speech” with that of other political leaders.

In a clear reference to the media coverage of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke soon after the PM the same morning, the I&B Ministry — the licensing authority for all channels — said the “telecast of this kind of programme was highly objectionable, and could draw penal provisions.” In an advisory sent to all news and current affairs channels, it said that the “significance of solemn days like Independence Day” must be kept in view while telecasting the PM’s speech.

“The attempt by certain TV channels to denigrate the status of the Prime Minister can best be described as sensational against all forms of ethical journalism,” the advisory stated. The Ministry referred to the statutory framework governing channels, noting that no programme could be transmitted which “offends against good taste or decency; and criticises, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups; segments of social, public and moral life of the country.”

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of the IBN 18 network, said it had not received any advisory yet but took exception to the government move. “Freedom of speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. If one is putting out a story which incites violence or hatred between communities, such guidelines must be applied. But what the top news story should be or how to frame it, is purely a matter of editorial discretion.”

It was the prerogative of the editors to determine news priorities or how to cover the speech of the PM and his political rival, added Mr. Sardesai. “Any interference in this regard is violative of fundamental freedoms.”

“Strange advisory”

News Broadcasters Association president K.V.L. Narayan Rao, who is also the executive vice-chairperson of NDTV, told The Hindu this was a “strange advisory.” “How is the coverage violative of any programme code? We will try to understand the provocation behind the order and engage with the Ministry.”

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