New Delhi: A leading Hindi news channel was Thursday ordered by the government to be taken off air for a day after an inter-ministerial panel constituted by the I&B ministry recommended this action over the broadcaster's coverage of the Pathankot terror attack in January.
An inter-ministerial panel had concluded that the channel 'NDTV India' had revealed crucial and 'strategically sensitive' information when the terror attack on an IAF base was being carried out, official sources said.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry while invoking the powers under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act said it "orders to prohibit the transmission or re-transmission of NDTV India channel for one day on any platform throughout India with effect from 00:01 hrs on 9th November, 2016 till 00:01 hrs of 10th November, 2016".
This is the first ever such order against a TV channel over its coverage of a terror attack, the norms regarding which were notified last year.
Reacting to the order, NDTV wrote on its website: "The order of the MIB has been received. It is shocking that NDTV has been singled out in this manner. Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact NDTV's coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner. NDTV is examining all options in this matter."
The matter pertains to the channel's coverage of the Pathankot attack where the committee felt that 'crucial information' that was aired could have been readily picked by terrorist handlers and had the potential to 'cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defense personnel'.
When the operation was on in January this year, the channel allegedly revealed information on the ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, MIGs, fighter-planes, rocket-launchers, mortars, helicopters, fuel-tanks etc "which was likely to be used by the terrorists or their handlers to cause massive harm," the sources said.
The sources said that as the content appeared to be in violation of the programming norms, a show-cause notice was issued to the channel in January this year.
In its reply, the channel replied that it was a case of 'subjective interpretation' and that most of the information they had put out was already in public domain in print, electronic and social media.
The committee, however, observed that the channel "appeared to give out the exact location of the remaining terrorists with regard to the sensitive assets in their vicinity" in their telecast in real time.
The panel expressed 'grave concern' that this was a matter of national security and that the channel had revealed sensitive details like location of ammunition depot viz-a-viz the space where the terrorists were holed up, location of school and residential areas.
"Such crucial information could have been readily picked by their handlers, which had the potential to cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defense personnel," the committee said as per the order.
The committee also disagreed with the contention of the channels that such news were also carried by newspapers saying television as an audio visual medium has a far wider and instantaneous impact, the order said.
"The IMC recommends that at least a token penalty of one day's off-air needed to be awarded to the TV channel so that they do not get away completely for this huge indiscretion and violation of specific rule or guideline relating to national security concerns," the I&B ministry order in this regard said.
The committee has observed that the violation stood proven beyond doubt, the order said and added that it could even attract a penalty of taking the channel off-air for 30 days.
However, it was factored that a rule in this regard had been introduced in June 2015 and this was the first such case where it was being applied to and not make the penalty harsh, it is learned.
The order noted that if the terrorists had indeed reached the ammunition depot or the fuel tank, they could have caused destruction of unimaginable proportions and this had been stated by the correspondent during the telecast yet the channel appeared 'unrepentant'.
"The ministry has issued advisories and sensitised channels regarding coverage of anti-terror operations. There have been oral warnings also. It is hoped that strategically sensitive details will not be revealed when such an operation is underway," a senior official said.
(With agency inputs)