On November 3, for the first time in India, a news channel was ordered to go off the air. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry stated that NDTV India had violated broadcasting norms during their reportage of the Pathankot attacks in January 2016. NDTV India has been accused of giving out “strategically sensitive” information of the air base, such as the location of terrorists and the action plan of the army.
This move has drawn major criticism. Politicians such as Mamata Bannerjee and media organizations like the Editors Guild have said that this decision compromises the essential freedoms of the press. But this is not the first time that the Indian media is fighting for its right to report the truth.
We bring to you five instances when the Indian media stood up for the freedom of speech and expression:
1. The Blank Editorial
The Emergency (1975 to 1977) was a time when the media, cinema, and citizens were heavily censored. For two days after the Emergency was declared, the electricity supply to newspaper offices was cut. To oppose the imposition of the Emergency, the Delhi edition of the Indian Express printed a blank editorial on June 28. It also apologised for not appearing for two days.
Forty years later in 2015, four newspapers in Nagaland adopted the same move. The Assam Rifles sent them a letter stating that any article which gave publicity to and spoke about the objectives of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), a Christian Naga nationalist insurgent group, would amount to a violation of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In response, the newspapers printed blank editorials and issued a joint statement. “Is this an attempt to censor, weaken and ultimately silence the role of the media in Nagaland?” they asked.
2. The Obituary
On June 26, the day after the Emergency was imposed, the Mumbai edition of the Times of India carried an obituary that read: “D.E.M O’Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justica expired on 26 June.”
3. “Where the Mind is without Fear”
In response to the declaration of the Emergency, the Financial Express carried lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Where the Mind Is without Fear. It ended with the prayer “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
4. Blocked Websites and Twitter Accounts
In 2012, when riots broke out in Assam, more than 300 URLS were blocked, some of which were Times of India, Al-Jazeera, Firstpost.com, and Telegraph.uk. The Twitter accounts of two journalists – Kanchan Gupta and Shiv Aroor – were blocked.
In an interview to Rediff.com, Gupta said that this move was “political vendetta”. “I have been a journalist but I have never worked or written against our national interest,” he said.
“So they’re saying I indulged in hate speech and goaded folks into sticking knives into each other?” Aroor asked. “Or is this about interpretation? Or about rumour mongering? Or is it just monumental clumsiness?” he says in a blog post on India Today.
5. Freedom on Social Media
Social media review website Mouthshut.com received several takedown notices from companies claiming that reviews about their organizations were maligning them. The section that these notices pertained to were Section 66A, which states that information that is “grossly offensive”, “menacing”, “for the purpose of causing annoyance” is grounds for punishment.
In response, Mouthshut.com filed a writ petition in 2013 stating that Section 66A, as we as other sections of the Information Technology Act, were unconstitutional. In a historic judgment in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A, and ordered the reading down of other sections as well.