New Delhi: The government denied on Monday that it was seeking to gag the media’s coverage of protests that have erupted in the capital following the gang-rape of a woman on 16 December.
The ministry of information and broadcasting had told the channels in a late 23 December advisory to exercise restraint in covering the protests. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari on Monday said the note was an advisory and not an attempt at censorship.
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), meanwhile, condemned attacks on journalists covering the protests. Expensive broadcast equipment was damaged and water cannons were used at specific media locations, suggesting journalists were being targeted by the police, it said. The association asserted that all member channels had reported the protests with maturity, sensitivity and restraint.
“Any police action against our reporters is, therefore, unacceptable and condemned in no uncertain terms,” it said. “It would be a sad day for the country, and democracy, if any attempt is made to muzzle the media.”
Tewari said he supported the right of journalists to report news. “If there is any action, warranted or unwarranted, which impinges upon the freedom of speech and expression, which includes the right to report, we consider it abhorrent and condemn it,” the minister said, adding that the use of exaggerated force by the state was avoidable.
Over the weekend, tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse thousands of protesters at India Gate and Rajpath.
The government advisory said “some private satellite news TV channels in their 24x7 coverage have not been showing due responsibility and maturity in telecasting the events relating (to) the said demonstration, and such a telecast is likely to cause deterioration in law and order situation, hindering the efforts of the law enforcing authorities”.
As a result, all news channels were advised to “scrupulously follow the programme code laid down in the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994...”.
A channel can lose its licence if it does not conform to the programming code.