THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL | 5 NOVEMBER, 2016
The Emergency, symbolising the worst restrictions on the freedom of the press, has been invoked in newspaper headlines across the country after the government announced a one day ban on NDTV India. The Editors Guild has issued a strong statement against the step, with other journalist bodies including the News Broadcasters Association, the Indian Women Press Corps, Press Club of India, Delhi Union of Journalists coming out in protest of a move that has rekindled fears amongst the journalistic community of a government clampdown.
The action demonstrates the deep intolerance of a government that is unable to digest even mild criticism and is prepared to cross all limits of accountability to ban a news channel. It also demonstrates the cynical use of ‘nationalism’ to silence not just students, activists and others but now also the media with the ban being linked to coverage of the Pathankot terror attack. NDTV India has refuted the charge in its entirety and yet an in house committee appointed by the government has moved to ban the channel from broadcasting on Movember 9, that incidentally is also the day when the US Presidential polls are being held.
The Citizen condemns the ban as not just reminsicent of the Emergency but indicative of the future. The government is clearly testing the media waters, and with this step has opened the locks thereby allowing direct government intervention in the functioning of the media. Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed blanket censorship on the print media (there was no television then) through the Emergency. The government--both BJP and Congress--- has been in recent years using the corporate owners to wield pressure on the editors and working journalists without intervening directly with the dispensation of news. But clearly now this is not seen as enough. And the first move for direct control of the media has been made by the BJP government at the centre.
This is what makes the ban on NDTV India so different from the controls being exercised till date. The government has given itself the authority to play favourites, and censure those still showing some signs of independence. The censure is not mild---although even this would not be acceptable---but a ban with the clear message that there can be more if news organisations ‘do not behave.’ The silver lining is that unlike the Emergency where the media, caught unawares, caved in today the journalists have united to protest this move. The realisation that all media is in danger has woken up even the sleeping dogs in the profession, and the government might just find that despite the apparent willingness, the fourth estate is not willing to be beaten into submission.