New Delhi: Journalists and major opposition politicians on Friday strongly condemned and asked the government to immediately rescind its Emergency-like decision to ban Hindi news channel NDTV India for a day for airing "strategically sensitive details" during the Pathankot terror attack.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has directed the news channel to go off air from the midnight of November 8 to midnight of November 9 for allegedly breaching broadcast norms in its coverage of the January 2 terror attack on the IAF base in Punjab.
The NDTV in a statement strongly refuted the charges and said it "is examining all options" to challenge the government order likened to Emergency days in India, which ranks 133 among 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
"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," the NDTV said.
The channel has the option to appeal the order before a tribunal.
Rallying behind the news channel, the Editors Guild of India, the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA), the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and the All India Newspaper Editors Conference (AINEC) all condemned the government decision that came after the recommendation of an inter-ministerial panel instituted by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
The Editors Guild said it was an "unprecedented decision" that violated the freedom of the media and therefore of the citizens of India.
"(It) amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency," it said.
The Guild said the central government with this decision had entrusted itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action when it did not agree with the coverage.
Echoing the concern, the BEA demanded an immediate withdrawal of the order while NBA wondered why the government singled out NDTV when other channels also covered the terror attack and "all such reports were available in the public domain".
The Indian Journalists Union said the government action "portended coming back of the dark days of Emergency when the media was gagged".
The Mumbai Press Club, which represents over 2,500 journalists, said the decision "does not augur well for freedom of expression of the country".
Added the All India Newspaper Editors Conference: "It is a murder of the freedom of speech and expression, which is a step towards totalitarianism."
Political leaders, including Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, RJD leader Lalu Prasad and Delhi and West Bengal Chief Ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee also condemned the "unprecedented" decision that they said reflected the government's Emergency-like attitude.
"Detaining opposition leaders, blacking out TV channels - all in a day's work in Modiji's India. NDTV Banned - shocking and unprecedented," Gandhi tweeted.
Kejriwal said he hoped the "whole media" would go off air for a day to express solidarity with NDTV India.
Banerjee said: "The NDTV ban is shocking. If the government had issues with the Pathankot coverage, there are provisions available. But the ban shows an Emergency-like attitude."
Lalu Prasad questioned Prime Minister Modi over "what kind of democracy" he was building in India.
Swaraj Abhiyan of activists Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan said banning NDTV "is a clear indication that the present government is intolerant to any independent voices. The message is loud and clear - Either fall in line, or get muzzled!"