Withdraw notice to TV channels

The government has no justifiable ground for the issue of show-cause notices to three TV channels which had telecast some programmes relating to the Yakub Memon case on the day he was hanged. NDTV 24X7, ABP News and Aaj Tak have been told to explain why they telecast “objectionable content”, showing “disrespect to the President of India and the judiciary”. Yakub Memon’s lawyer had, on NDTV, called for abolition of the death penalty. The two other channels had telecast an interview with underworld don Chhota Shakeel who said Memon was innocent. He had also questioned the way the mercy petitions had been dismissed. These discussions about the various aspects of Memon’s hanging took place in the print and electronic media before and after the execution. There was nothing objectionable about them and the media have the right to express them. To seek action against some channels for airing them is wrong, and shows an authoritarian and intolerant streak which has characterised the government’s dealings with and attitude towards the media.

The notices have been issued under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Rules of 1994 which are vague and easy to misuse, as seen in the present case. Under Section 1(G) of the rules, no programme should cast aspersions on the President and the judiciary. But a discussion of Presidential actions and judicial decisions and criticism of them do not amount to casting aspersions. The President’s Office and the Supreme Court have not raised any issues with the media coverage of the Memon case. Even a liberal interpretation of defamation and contempt of court provisions would not make the discussions on the three media channels liable for action. In any case, the court does not need the government to act for it, as it has enough powers to deal with any aspersions cast on it.

Other provisions of the cable TV regulations under which the show-cause notices have been issued are also not applicable to the programmes aired on the channels. These provisions bar obscenity, falsehood, incitement of violence and promotion of anti-national attitudes. They also bar programmes which offend good taste and decency and criticism of friendly countries. None of these is relevant in the present case. The habit of dubbing all criticism as anti-national is growing now. The other charges are too vague and even subjective to be the ground for any action. Harassment of media on such grounds amounts to denial of freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. Good sense should prevail on the government and it should withdraw the notices sent to the channels.

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