After strong criticism, Modi govt revokes suspension of 2 Malayalam channels over Delhi violence coverage
The news of the ban against these two channels saw a stream of criticism by politicians of all hues except the BJP. Several people got out on the streets to protest late on Friday night
After an arbitrary move by the Modi government to ban two Malayalam News channels Asianet News and MediaOne on Friday night, by Saturday 2 am the ban on Asianet News was revoked. Soon after by 9.25 am, the ban on MediaOne was also lifted.
The revocation came after strong protests by BJP critics on social media about the ban and the preferential treatment given to Asianet after the ban. Several called it the government’s version of National Register of Citizens for news channels. Asianet is promoted by businessman and BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, while MediaOne, the television arm of Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited is owned by the mostly Muslim Ideal Publication Trust.
The order passed by the Information and Broadcasting ministry stated that both news channels violated Cable Television Network Rules 1994, which stated, among other things, "no programme should be carried in the cable service which attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes". It also states that no programme should be carried which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes.
Both channels were served showcase notices on February 28, and both defended the reportage stating that they had shown extreme caution in compliance with the rules. They stated that their reports were not contemptuous of any religious groups or communal attitudes.
The Group Editor of Madhyamam-MediaOne, O Abdurahman said, “Around 7.30 pm yesterday we were told by the I&B ministry that there would be a 48-hour ban on our channel. A week earlier, we had gotten a show cause to which we had responded. The I&B ministry did not respond to the notice, instead they suddenly announced the ban. And just as suddenly they lifted the ban around 9.30 am on Saturday morning. We believe it happened because of pressure on social media and protests on the ground. We have not apologised for our coverage. Freedom of the press is one of the basic tenets of our democracy. People will not tolerate the ban on a channel without any specific issue. The reporter MH Banna was reporting what he saw.”
“Our ban slapped on our channel by the I&B ministry was revoked early in the morning around 1.45 am even though the ban was for 48-hours. This ban was unwarranted. This happened at midnight and we have not had enough time to process it. It is unprecedented in 25 years of our channel’s history. The reporter PR Sunil is one of our best reporters and he has been reporting from Delhi for about a decade,” said MG Radhakrishnan, Asianet News editor.
Sources from Asianet said that a person appointed by the management spoke to the I&B ministry. “We know that they were communicating as is usual in such circumstances. We do not know if the management has tendered an apology, but there has been no apology from the editorial team,” said the source.
The I&B ministry order on MediaOne channel states that their Delhi correspondent Hassanul Banna reported that vandals fired at anti-CAA protest site from the rooftop from 2 pm to 9 pm and around 5pm anti-CAA protestors were injured. Police refused to visit the spot and nab the vandals. The I&B Ministry was concerned that the channel reporting “was shown in a manner which highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community. The Channel’s reporting on Delhi violence seems to be biased as it is deliberately focusing on the vandalism by CAA supporters. It also questions RSS and alleges Delhi Police inaction. The Channel seems critical towards Delhi Police and RSS.”
MediaOne channel issued a statement on the order. "This is a blatant attack against free and fair reporting. The ministry order mentioned that our reporting has violated cable TV Act. This is something but an order to stop free and fair journalism. MediaOne will fight legally against this unprecedented and undemocratic action imposed by Information and Broadcasting Ministry," signed CL Thomas, Editor-in-Chief of MediaOne TV.
In case of the I&B ministry’s order on Asianet News, it stated that their Delhi reporter PR Sunil reported that “violence continued at Jaffarabad like the previous day and rioters ruled the streets at Jaffarabad, Ashok Nagar and Maujpur. Delhi Police were mute spectators when rioters set ablaze mosques at Jaffarabad and Maujpur. Fire tenders reached two hours late to put out the fire. The Central government did not act to control the riots. Delhi witnessed such a large riot after 1984 anti-Sikh riots”. Again, the ministry was worried that the telecast of the “reports on North-East Delhi violence has been shown in a manner which highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community”.
Both these channels have reported against both the Right-wing and Left-wing groups in Kerala. Asianet News is particularly critical of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and BJP leaders in Kerala had boycotted the channel in 2015 for reporting only “negative” stories about the party and its leaders.
The news of the ban against these two channels saw a stream of criticism by politicians of all hues except the BJP. Several people got out on the streets to protest late on Friday night. Leaders of both Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress slammed the move by the BJP government.
“How on earth can Malayalam channels inflame communal passions in Delhi? Whereas the truly vicious propaganda channels like Ré-pubic & TimesCow continue their brazen distortions w/impunity,” stated Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram.
Supporting him, Congress MP P Chidambaram stated, “The Ministry of I&B plays the roles of Prosecutor, Jury and Judge. This is a travesty of justice. All media entities should protest vehemently. The government must scrap the shut down order forthwith.”
CPI(M) State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also spoke against the ban. “This is a threat from the Modi government to shut down media organisations which does not report as per the wishes of the RSS. This is a fascist move is meant. The government is not ready to discuss the riots even in the Parliament,” stated Balakrishnan.