INDIA: 'It's a return of censors'

Editors Guild of India and Press Club of India lend their support to television broadcasters speaking against plans to gag electronic media in designated emergencies

The Times of India
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

By Himanshi Dhawan

New Delhi --- With the government digging in its heels to push in amendments to the Cable Television Network Regulations Act, television channels have struck back. Broadcasters have expressed their reservations on the proposed amendments on a recently created -- returnofcensor.blogspot.com.

Television broadcasters have already received support from the Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India. The Press Club has assailed the measures of the Union government to "gag the electronic media" and secretary general Pushpendra Kulshrestha has called for unified action to compel the government to rescind the draconian measures.

Star News's managing editor Milind Khandekar said that censorship of television news was only the beginning and the whip could extend to print media and internet in the name of national interest. News 24 managing editor Ajit Anjum has written that there was danger of misinterpretation of law whose implementation was left at the discretion of district magistrates and sub-divisional magistrates. "Each district will have a separate interpretation of 'national interest' and will use this to throttle the voice of the media," Anjum said.

Satish K Singh, Zee News editor, said that the government's attempt was an attack on fundamental rights. ETV political editor N K Singh has pointed out that the authorities have resorted to less than honourable means if the media did not play the role of a watchdog.

Giving the example of police excesses in Pilibhit pilgrims encounter and Maliana massacre, Singh said, the then DGP of UP, in case of Pilibhit encounter (a case of mistaken identity by overenthusiastic police), sought to hush up the matter saying although some children (they were also among the pilgrims) were killed in cross-fire, the other killed were hardened terrorists. One newspaper later exposed the case by giving minutest details of the pilgrims, many of whom were 80-year-old.

He added that the government appeared determined to monitor the media so that it can censor pictures and soundbites that demand accountability from the government. "You have to decide whether the next time there is a terrorist attack you'll trust the government or the TV channels," Singh said.