News Time Assam, the channel ordered by the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry to go off the air for a day on November 9, has welcomed the move, saying the 24-hour ban gives them free publicity.
I&B ministry’s punitive measures against three channels – NDTV India, News Time Assam and Cable World TV has kicked up a nationwide storm with media organizations denouncing the move as a crackdown on free speech and media.
But the current operator of News Time Assam, which is commercially ailing, say the ban will in fact be good as it will get the channel some free publicity and hopefully will bring in investors.
“We have decided to remain off air on November 9 for things that didn’t happen during our watch. But the ministry’s order is good news for us,” said Utpal Baruah, content producer New Time Assam.
The channel has been ordered to go off the air after it was found guilty on three counts several years ago, including revealing the identity of a minor domestic abuse victim, showing images of dead bodies and airing content derogatory towards women.
The assets of the channel, launched in 2010 by Kolkata-based Brand Value Communications, were acquired last year by Pratidin Group, which launched its own news channel called Pratidin Time.
But the license, which still remained with Brand Value Communications, was taken on lease by Baruah.
According to Baruah, the I&B ‘punishment’ pertains to the period when the channel’s content was being produced by Pratidin.
“We are being punished for content aired when the channel was not being run by us. But we hope the free publicity will help revive the channel, which is not doing very well, and get us some investors,” said Baruah.
This is not the first time I&B ministry has stopped transmission of News Times Assam for violating provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
In July 2014, another inter-ministerial committee had ordered the channel to go off air for a day on July 30 for telecasting reports in October 2013 on two girls using the official car of an MLA.
The channel in its reports had tried to show, without any evidence, that the two girls who were using the legislator’s car could have been sex workers.
“The intention of the channel to chase the girls and to expose their faces on TV was perverted and against all ethics of journalism,” the committee noted.
Television news channels in Assam routinely act as moral police, telecasting programmes on dress codes of girls or commenting on women who drink in bars.
In 2012, the editor-in-chief of News Live, owned by powerful Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, was forced to resign after the channel showed molestation of a girl outside a bar on a busy Guwahati road.
A reporter of the channel was accused of instigating a mob to target the girl. Though a court later acquitted the reporter due to lack of evidence, 11 others were held guilty.