Union information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday defended the government’s decision to take off air two news channels for a day while pointing out that 21 channels were barred from broadcasting during the Congress-led UPA regime.
“Surprised by the criticism of PM by Congress VP... These sermons are coming from a party that imposed emergency for 19.5 months and put the opposition behind bars,” Naidu said.
The Union minister was reacting to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s comments that the Modi government was “obsessed with power” and silencing critics and the Indian democracy was passing through one of its “darkest hours” under the present dispensation.
“The Modi government is obsessed with power, it seeks to silence all those who disagree. Hiding behind the cloak of national security, civil society is being intimidated for asking questions. Television channels are being punished and asked to shut down,” Gandhi said earlier in the day.
The government has been under fire for asking three channels to go off air for a period varying from at a day to a week, for violating broadcast laws. Journalists, activists and opposition have said the one-day ban on Hindi news channel NDTV India amounted to suppressing free speech.
NDTV, which challenged the punishment in the Supreme Court during the day, was banned for revealing sensitive details during its coverage of a militant attack on the Pathankot airbase in January.
This crucial information could have been readily picked up by the militants’ handlers and jeopardised national security, the information and broadcasting ministry said.
Naidu said the outburst against the PM was out of frustration and depression. “There is a growing intolerance in the country, our opponents are growing intolerant and trying to create problems,” he said.
“We are all victims of Emergency. Our leaders were out behind bars. We will never do anything that will hurt the freedom of the press.”
This is the first time that a news channel has been barred from broadcasting for breaching national security laws in the country.