As Indian government orders TV channel off the air for a day, media alleges harsh censorship

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Editors accused India's government on Friday (Nov 4) of imposing censorship reminiscent of the country's 1970s emergency after it ordered a TV network off the air over its reporting of an attack by Pakistan-based militants.

NDTV India has been instructed to cease broadcasts for 24 hours next week after a government panel decreed it had revealed "strategically sensitive details" while covering January's deadly attack on Pathankot air base.

The panel said an NDTV report included details about military aircraft and weapons kept at the base in Punjab "which was likely to be used by the terrorists themselves or their handlers to cause massive harm".

A spokesman for the information ministry said the Indian channel would have to go off air on November 9 "for violating the cable TV act", which limits what the media can report during major security incidents.

Although India's government has ordered other temporary shutdowns of TV networks, it is the first time that this specific legislation has been invoked to take a news channel off air.

NDTV, which has had several run-ins with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government, said it had been "singled out" for action and that its reporting had been no different from what other channels broadcast.

"After the dark days of the emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner," it said in a statement.

The Editors Guild of India also said the measure evoked memories of the 1975-77 emergency rule, when fundamental rights were suspended in the world's largest democracy and large numbers of journalists were jailed.

"The decision to take the channel off the air for a day is a direct violation of the freedom of the media and therefore the citizens of India and amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency," the guild said in a statement.

"Imposing a ban without resorting to judicial intervention or oversight violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice. The Editors Guild of India calls for an immediate withdrawal of the ban order."

Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the main anchors of the rival India Today network, also expressed alarm at the move.

"One of India's most sober and responsible channels NDTV India to be banned for a day by I and B ministry. NDTV today, who tomorrow?" he tweeted.

The Al Jazeera news channel was taken off the air for five days last year after it broadcast a graphic of the Kashmir region, which is divided between India and Pakistan but whose borders are disputed.

The previous centre-left government also ordered The Economist to cover up a map of Kashmir in 2011, forcing the news weekly to place white stickers on the 28,000 copies being sold in India.

India ranks 133 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders in 2016.

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