If you’ve seen the news these past few days, you must be aware about the ban by the government on NDTV’s Hindi news channel. Yet another example of intolerance and an indication of the impending emergency under newly christened, Hindu India. It has been alleged that the government is restricting free speech and by controlling the media, it is restricting free speech in the vibrant democracy that is India. This charge is nothing new for the Indian government; it has faced numerous such allegations in the past over such “high-handedness”. But let’s examine the facts a little more clearly.
Diving a bit deeper into the issue, one is forced to ask whether the issue really is about free speech or not? The charge against NDTV India is of causing security concerns by airing live-coverage of the counter terrorism operation undertaken by the Indian forces against the terrorist attack on Pathankot air force base. It is the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act under which such an action has been taken by the government. The charge that the order was arbitrary seems made up. The government followed due process by issuing a show cause notice to the channel and then forming an inter-ministerial committee to look into the charges. The channel’s representatives were given a fair chance to put forward their case to the committee before such an order was passed.
The first issue at hand is how did this entire issue become about free speech? It is the Indian Constitution that disallows such an act and it is purely related to security reasons and has no relation whatsoever to free speech. NDTV has received support across media circles and the media has effectively changed the narrative by focusing on free speech rather than national security.
NDTV then goes on to argue how information that it displayed was not harmful to national security and was already available in the public domain. It goes on to justify its stand by making petty arguments about how it revealed only vague details and in no way harmed national security. I’m sorry but since when has NDTV assumed the role of the nation’s national security advisor? Since when did we give power to mike-wielding TRP hungry reporters to determine what is and what is not harmful to the lives of the nation’s soldier? If NDTV feels that it has adequately analysed that its disclosures were not harmful to the nation’s security, why doesn’t it approach the honorable Supreme Court and attain a stay order on this ban? If it feels that it is being single out when actually all other channels were displaying the same information, it has all the powers of the constitution (the same constitution that mandates this ban) at its disposal to appeal against this “tyrannical” order by the government.
I doubt whether the government is engaging in a witch-hunt and has decided to punish NDTV just for the heck of it. One must examine the reason behind the constitution of such a law. This law was mandated by the botched up job that the esteemed Indian media did during the 26/11 terror attacks. Terrorist handlers from Pakistan saw the action on live TV and directed the terrorists towards actions that generated panic and positions of the security forces. A local politician trapped in the attack gave a live interview to a news channel thus compromising the hiding position of all those with him.
Such botch-ups clearly reveal that the media is incompetent to decide on whether it conducts itself in a manner that upholds national security or not. There is no iota of responsibility in these so-called journalists and any attack or criticism on their profession is seen as an attack on free speech and democracy itself. If the media desires to be the fourth pillar in the democracy and the upholder of values of free speech and expression, it must look into this word called Responsibility. It is their hunger for TRP that makes them bloodhounds trying to find a story. If the Indian security forces had allowed any reporter to enter the air force base during the attack I believe the reporters would have found a terrorist and interacted with them in their clichéd Takiya Kalam, “Aapko abhi kaisa mehsoos ho raha hai?” If free speech is important in a democracy, a rider must be imposed on its upholders.
The media must understand that it is not above oversight in any case.