Exclusive: The exact reason why I&B Ministry recommended a token ban on NDTV India

Yesterday we had revealed how Ravish Kumar’s NDTV India had got rewarded with a 24 hours black-screen by an Inter-ministerial committee (IMC) of the Information and Broadcasting ministry. The penalty of taking the channel off-air for one full day came after the IMC noted with “grave concern” that the channel had “revealed sensitive details like location of ammunition depot and the place where terrorists were held up, location of school and residential areas”.

Responding to this latest order, NDTV put out a short and tame statement today. It said that they were shocked that “NDTV has been singled out” when “every channel and newspaper had similar coverage”. Is this an admission of guilt? “look we did it, but so did they?”

They continued to claim that their coverage was balanced, and recalled the dark days of the Emergency. No sooner was the “E” word uttered, the usual suspects broke into wails on social media, crying “emergency”. It is pertinent to note NDTV did not put out any factual rebuttal to any specific issues, but just said that “NDTV is examining all options in this matter”.

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The Editor’s Guild of India too put up a similar note, mouthing NDTV’s stance, crying emergency and censorship. Oddly, the note said that this was a “first-of-its-kind order to impose a black-out”, whereas the truth is that there have been similar orders of blackout for other reasons, like in 2007 when a channel called “Live India” was banned for a whole month and last year, when Al Jazeera channel was taken off-air for 5 days.

Now, we at OpIndia.com have exclusive access to the IMC’s deliberations, and which specific parts of NDTV India’s broadcast were found objectionable. We put out the relevant portions of the documents, for the readers to decide whether the punishment is fair.

The content was aired on NDTV India on 4th January 2016, from 12:25:45 hours to 12:31:25 hours while anti-terror ops were still underway at Pathankot. During this period, the anchor in the studio, reported about the press briefing of the armed forces, which had just concluded, and then proceeded to contact the correspondent on the ground, asking for further information. At this stage, i.e. at 12:28:16 hours, the IMC notes that the correspondent divulges “sensitive” information as below:

Excerpt 1: “sensitive” information

The correspondent revealed that 2 terrorists were nearby, and could have gone to an airport nearby, or to the 2nd army base. Thus, they (the army) want to scan the entire area bit by bit, with full precautions, only then will the operations be declared as over.

Next, the IMC notes that the anchor asks the correspondent what sort of challenges lie in scanning such a large area, where families, schools, helicopters and MIGs are present. To which the correspondent replies:

Excerpt 2: Information revealed
Excerpt 2: Information revealed

In the above paragraph, IMC noted that NDTV India gave away information such as details of ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, MIGs, fighter planes, rocket launchers, mortars, helicopters, fuel tanks which was likely to be used by the terrorists themselves or their handlers to cause massive harm not only to national security, but also to civilians and defence personnel. The channel also gave details of school and residential areas located in the airbase which could have been used by the terrorists or their handlers to cause violence to the innocent in the school and the residential area.

Part of the above broadcast was recorded by a social media user and uploaded to Twitter on the very same day. Here is the video:

The user also commented that the correspondent divulged the exact location of the ammunition store from the building where the terrorists are holed up. This corroborates with the findings of the IMC as well. According to the IMC, based on the above, NDTV India appeared to violate Rule 6(1)(p) of the Programme Code under Cable TV Network Rules, 1994:

No programme should be carried in the cable service which contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces, wherein media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate Government, till such operation concludes.

NDTV India responded to the above charges by saying that the entire coverage was deferred, and the details such as those of the weapons, ammunition and equipment present, and the presence of schools and residential areas, was already reported by the print media. NDTV India cited specific references of news items from the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times etc from 3rd and 4th January which revealed similar information. NDTV India also cited the press briefings by the army personnel, and finally said that “this was a case of subjective interpretation” hence the requested the Ministry to view the reportage from the perspective as given by them.

NDTV India was also given the opportunity of a personal hearing wherein the representatives of the channel reiterated the statements made in the written submissions.

The IMC noted that from NDTV’s reply, it was clear the the information regarding location and expanse of the assets at the airbase, was available in “bits and pieces” in various media, but, NDTV appeared to give out the exact location of the remaining terrorists, with regards to the sensitive assets around them, when they telecast in real time as follows:

Excerpt 3: Real time information

The correspondent clearly states that 2 terrorists are alive, and at the same place where the weapons depot is located. And that the army is worried that if the terrorists reaches this depot, then it would be much harder to contain the terrorists, because the depot has rocket launchers, mortar and other destructive weapons.

The IMC also noted that initially NDTV India stuck to the information revealed by armed forces press briefing, but later “changed its tone, and added a contrarian stance”. This can be seen from line two in excerpt 3 above, as per the IMC’s report.

From this the IMC determined that the information broadcast by NDTV India, was “neither based, nor limited to”  to periodic briefing by a designated officer, and hence NDTV India was in violation of rule 1(p) as cited above. The IMC also observed that the guidelines governing the TV channels and Newspapers are different. They noted that “the reach of TV Is beyond physical borders and language barriers” and that “TV as an audio/visual medium have a far wider and instantaneous impact”.

IMC further noted that “threat to National Security cannot justified on any grounds whatsoever”, hence “no benefit of doubt could be given for their subjective interpretation as mentioned in the representation given by the channel”. IMC also took cognisance of the fact that this was not the first violation by NDTV group and that “there are previous incidents where the channel has violated the Program code in the Cable act”.

For deciding the quantum of punishment, IMC relied on para 8 of the Guidelines for up-linking from India, which gave the powers to the ministry to suspend permissions for 30 days, in case of first violation, and 90 days in case of second violation. Based on this, the IMC had initially recommended a 30 day ban for NDTV India.

However the I&B ministry informed the IMC, that rule 6(1) p which was violated by NDTV India was newly introduced in June 2015. The IMC then opined that perhaps news channels weren’t sensitised about the rule change, and since this was the first instance of violation by any channel of this new rule, the penalty of 30 days seemed harsh. Hence, they settled for a token one-day penalty. The IMC noted that this one day token penalty cut was recommended to ensure that NDTV India does not get away completely for this “huge indiscretion and violation of rules” and also its “unrepentant behaviour”.

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