India's Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry has ordered a Hindi news channel to remain off air for allegedly breaching national security laws. The move has been criticised by top media associations including the Editors Guild of India and the Broadcast Editors' Association.
The ministry has ordered to prohibit the transmission or re-transmission of the channel for 24 hours from 12 midnight on 9 November claiming that the channel revealed "strategically sensitive" information during its coverage of the Pathankot attacks, on 2 January. This is the first time such order against a news channel for its coverage on a terror attack.
The committee that imposed the ban said the news channel aired "crucial information" during the anti-terror operation that could have given clues to handlers of terrorists, compromising national security as well as claiming the lives of civilians and army personnel.
However, NDTV India has claimed that it was a case of "subjective interpretation" and that much of the information was already in the public domain.
"It is shocking that NDTV has been singled out in this manner. Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact NDTV's coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the Emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner. NDTV is examining all options in this matter," the news channel said in a statement late on Thursday (3 November).
The Editors Guild has demanded that the order be "immediately rescinded". It said that the ban not only violates freedom of press, but also the Indian citizens' right to be informed. The guild accused the government of intervening in the functioning of the media.
It also compared the order to the "harsh censorship" of media during the 21-month Emergency imposed between 1975 and 1977 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
"This 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," the Editors Guild said on Friday (4 November).
The channel can appeal against the order before a tribunal, but if the order is violated, the Hindi language channel could be banned for 30 days, the broadcasting ministry said.
In the past, entertainment TV channels like AXN and Fashion TV have been banned for showing adult content or nudity. As many as 20 channels have been taken off-air between 2005 and 2013. Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based channel was banned in India in 2015 for five days for allegedly showing a wrong map of India.