- Two Malayalam news channels faced 48 hours ban on Friday
- Copy of telecast examined by Information and Broadcasting Ministry
- "Blatant attack against free and fair reporting": Channels responded
Two Malayalam news channels - Asianet News and MediaOne TV - that were banned for 48 hours on Friday over their coverage of last week's violence are back on air.
The two news channels were taken off air at 7:30 pm on Friday for reporting on violence in northeast Delhi last week over contentious citizenship law - Citizenship (Amendment) Act - that killed more than 50 people, injured over 200.
While Asianet was back on air at 1:30 am on Saturday, the broadcasting of MediaOne TV resumed this morning.
In orders issued late on Friday evening, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry said Asianet News and MediaOne TV had violated provisions of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, by broadcasting reports on February 25 that "highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community".
The ministry said Asianet had referred to the attacks as "communal violence" and its anchor/ correspondent had said "the centre gave silent consent for the violence".
It added that it had examined a copy of the telecast, which included comments like "...commuters on the road are forced to chant Jai Shri Ram... Muslims are brutally attacked... (and) centre can control the violence within hours, but no action has been taken".
The notification against MediaOne TV focused on a phone-in of a Delhi-based correspondent who claimed vandals had attacked anti-CAA protesters at northeast Delhi's Chand Bagh, one of the worst-hit areas. According to the ministry the MediaOne reporters also said "Delhi Police remained inactive... vandalised shops and fruit carts and set them ablaze".
A copy of the transmission that aired on MediaOne TV was examined by the ministry, which said it attacked the government for its "cold-shouldered approach towards anti-CAA protesters" and criticised Delhi Police for failing to register FIRs against a "provocative speech" by unnamed BJP leader in Jafrabad, another of the violence-hit areas.
Both channels provided detailed responses to the notifications.
In a statement, MediaOne TV called the 48-hour ban "a blatant attack against free and fair reporting". "The order issued by I & B ministry to suspend the telecast from March 6th, 19.30 hrs to March 8th 19.30 hrs, is for criticizing RSS and Delhi Police," read a statement by CL Thomas, Editor in Chief, MediaOne TV.
"The order also states that MediaOne has referred hate speeches made by Mr Kapil Mishra, the BJP leader from Delhi, as a reason for igniting violence in Delhi. The ministry order has mentioned on our reporting about not registering FIR against hate speeches, has violated cable TV Act. This is nothing but an order to stop free and fair journalism," it further said.
In its remarks against the ministry orders, Asianet News said their reporters had risked their lives to report on the violence. In response to allegations of siding with a community, the channel pointed out they had also telecast interviews with residents of Yamuna Vihar who belonged to the majority community.
The 48-hour ban on the news channels also triggered sharp reactions from Kerala government and senior Congress leaders. Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac praised both channels for "impartial reportage (and) exposing Hindutva communal brigades".
AsianetNews and Media One News channels telecast banned for 48 hours for their impartial reportage of Delhi riots and exposing role Hindutva communal brigades. Protest the brazen attempt to gag the press .— Thomas Isaac (@drthomasisaac) March 6, 2020
In a tweet, senior Congress Leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor asked: "How on earth can Malayalam channels inflame communal passions in Delhi?"
Another senior Congress leader P Chidambaram this morning tweeted: "Shut down order against two TV channels is an unconstitutional interference with the freedom of the Press."
Shut down order against two TV channels is an unconstitutional interference with the freedom of the Press.— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) March 7, 2020
The ban was also criticised by Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of the Opposition, who said it was a "fascist decision" that was "unconstitutional and against freedom of press".
"Our basic thought process is that press freedom is absolutely essential for a democratic setup," Union Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters this afternoon amid criticism against government.
"And that is commitment of Modi government as we fought emergency in which press freedom was muzzled. So, even PM Modi expressed concern on this issue. I will go into details and take essential steps if there's any wrongdoing. Also, everybody accepts freedom comes with responsibility," he added.