New Delhi: The government on Monday put on hold its widely-denounced one-day ban on Hindi news channel NDTV India as the media group moved the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of the gag order.
"The one-day ban on NDTV's Hindi channel has been put on hold by information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu," the news group said.
The ministry had ordered the channel to go off air from Wednesday midnight to Thursday midnight for allegedly broadcasting "strategically sensitive details" during its coverage of the January 2 terror attack on the Pathankot IAF base in Punjab.
The media group earlier in a BSE filing said it had filed an application in the Supreme Court to challenge "the constitutional validity of the (government) order and the provisions of law pursuant to which the said order has purportedly been passed".
The court is expected to hear the case on Tuesday.
The news channel has refuted the allegation, saying its coverage of the terror attack was balanced and other channels and newspapers also reported the same information.
The ban on NDTV India was widely condemned by opposition parties, the Editors Guild and other media and journalist groups.
On Monday, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi lashed out at the government over what he said was one of the "darkest hours" in the history of the Indian democracy.
"The Modi government is obsessed with power. It seeks to silence all those who disagree. Hiding behind the cloak of national security, civil society is being intimidated for asking questions. Television channels are being punished and asked to shut down," Gandhi said.
Information and broadcasting minister Naidu returned Gandhi's criticism and, earlier, justified his ministry's order.
"Every word Rahul said... suits the Congress itself and reminds people of what it had done. Democracy was taken off the air for 19-and-a-half months and Emergency was imposed," Naidu told reporters, referring to the days of Emergency from 1975-77 during Indira Gandhi's rule.
Naidu said the decision against NDTV was a "small action" as the government would never do anything to suppress media freedom.
But journalist groups slammed the government, saying the order contradicted India's democratic norms and curbed media freedom.
The Press Club of India and the Indian Women's Press Corps held a protest march in the capital, urging the government to withdraw the order.
"The Press Club of India and the Indian Women's Press Corps strongly condemn the decision," they said in a joint statement.
"The ministry should immediately quash the order as it violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression as enshrined in our Constitution."
The Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia (FCC) condemned the "arbitrary" ban that "violates press freedom in the world's largest democracy".
"If the government believes that any TV network has violated the law, it should first take up the issue with the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), the independent self-regulatory body of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), for redressal, and then take the offending network to court if necessary," it said.