National

Ban on 2 news channels lifted

Government supports freedom of the press, says Javadekar

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Saturday withdrew the 48-hour ban on two Malayalam news channels hours after it was imposed late on Friday, imposing it reportedly for their coverage of Delhi riots with I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar saying he would look into the matter and take “essential steps” if any wrong doing was found.

The channels, Asianet News and Media One, were accused in the ban orderof “siding with one community”, alleging inaction by the Delhi police and the Union Home Ministry, and being critical of the RSS in their coverage of last month’s riots in Delhi.

“We immediately found out what actually happened and, therefore, we immediately restored the channels. One of the channel owners talked to me. By night only his channel, Asianet, was on and Media One is also on from today morning,” Mr. Javadekar told reporters on the sidelines of an eventin Pune.

For his government, press freedom is absolutely essential in a democracy, Mr. Javadekar said. “We fought the Emergency, we went to jail to remove clamps on press freedom.”

He further said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, had expressed concern about the ban.

However, the Minister while saying, “I will definitely go into the details and take essential steps if there is any wrongdoing,” added, “But let me also tell you that everybody should accept that there has to be responsible freedom.”

The channels were suspended for 48 hours beginning 7:30 p.m. on Fridaytill 7:30 pm on Sunday. In the event, the ban on Asianet News was lifted at 1.30 a.m. while the ban on Media One was lifted at 9.30 a.m. on Saturday.

Asianet News channel denied that they issued any unconditional apology for lifting of the ban. Asianet News Editor M.G. Radhakrishnan said the management of the channel contacted the I&B Ministry on Friday night itself.

“We didn't issue any apology. In fact, the Minister himself has clarified it, that he found it [the ban] out and that it happened without his knowledge. And he has reaffirmed his commitment to freedom of press. So it’s very clear; they have realised their mistake and the withdrew the ban order,” Mr. Radhakrishnan told The Hindu.

Media One Editor-in-chief C.L. Thomas said his channel had not reached out to the government. “We were proceeding for legal action. Today we got the information that the ban has been revoked, so we did not go ahead with the legal proceedings. We did not contact anyone in the Ministry; the government suo motu lifted the ban,” Mr. Thomas said.

According to sources in the Ministry, since the charges against both the channels were identical, once the ban on Asianet was withdrawn, the ban on Media One couldn’t continue. The Ministry's order against Media One also had factual errors. The reporter who has been cited in the ban orders, Hassanul Banna, is actually employed with Madhyamam, a daily which is a sister concern of Media One.

Opposition parties severely criticised the gag order.

“By banning Asianet and Media One, the government is saying that it’s a crime to ask questions and report on the mayhem in Delhi. We are confident that better sense prevailed overnight on account of widespread condemnation of such a intemperate act of the government. Hopefully they will not repeat such obnoxious act,” chief spokesperson of the Congress Randeep Surjewala said. He also slammed Mr. Javadekar, saying the Minister’s statement was shameful since he almost conceded that he did not know what was happening in his own government.

The CPI (M) called the shortlived ban a direct assault on press freedom and an authoritarian effort to suppress news which is not to the liking of the ruling party. CPI General Secretary D. Raja said, “I condemn this action of the government and this reflects fascist attitude of the government that is preventing the truth from being told.”

The National Broadcasting Association (NBA) welcomed the lifting of the ban. In a statement NBA President Rajat Sharma said the Association appreciates the concern shown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this matter. Mr Sharma also said the Association was shocked to learn that a decision like this was taken without the knowledge of the Minister for Information & Broadcasting. The NBA has demanded that the Minister institute an inquiry on how prohibitory orders were issued without his approval and share details of inquiry report with them.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 4:22:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ban-on-2-news-channels-lifted/article31013934.ece

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