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Now airing: the hounding of a TV channel for showing Modi in bad light

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 4 September 2015, 15:15 IST
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The attack

  • The I&B ministry has pushed Sathiyam TV to the brink of closure
  • Why? It allegedly portrayed the prime minister in \'poor light\'
  • A preacher on the channel apparently called Modi a \'satanic person\'

The fight back

  • The ministry says the channel violated the Programme Code
  • The channel defends its right to criticise, has gone to the court
  • It has also asked the Prime Minister \'to not be so thin-skinned\'

Largely unknown to the public, the Narendra Modi government has bullied a TV channel to the brink of closure.

Sathiyam TV's crime: it portrayed the Prime Minister in "poor light".

The Tamil news channel is now waging a legal battle for survival against the I&B ministry.

It all began on 12 December 2014. A preacher on Ungal Aseervatha Neram, a Christian evangelical programme that airs at 6:30 am, prayed for the removal of "this satanic person", which the ministry believes is a reference to Modi.

"Oh, lord! Remove this satanic person from this world! Oh lord! Remove this person along with his sons (supporters)," the preacher said, according to the I&B ministry.

Then, on the show Paarthathum Padithathum that same evening, a panelist claimed the Prime Minister "engineered crowds at his rallies and also influenced the media to project an incorrect picture as true".

The guest, a senior journalist, reportedly also accused Modi of using his oratorical skills to make people believe his false statements.

Struck down

The ministry decided the two broadcasts portrayed the prime minister in poor light and issued a show cause notice, a copy of which is with Catch, to Sathiyam TV in December 2014.

On 12 May this year, the ministry held the channel in violation of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Preacher on Sathiyam TV prayed for the "satanic" person's removal. I&B ministry says he meant Modi

The notice stated: "Such statements being broadcast from a religious preacher appeared to be targeting a political leader and could potentially give rise to a communally sensitive situation and incite the public to violent tendencies."

As for the panelist's criticism, it added: "The statements appeared to defame a person without any substantiation. It appeared to malign and slander the prime minister which was repugnant to the esteemed office."

The channel moved the Delhi High Court, which has asked the ministry to explain the notices.

But while the case was being heard, the ministry, on 26 August, sent a formal "warning" to the channel for three more alleged violations of the code.

These included a story on atrocities against children in Assam, broadcast of CCTV footage of firing in a Madhya Pradesh hospital, and airing of the footage of a man setting himself afire at a BJP event in Telangana.

Now, if the ministry issues another formal "warning", as per the rules, Sathiyam TV might have to shut shop.

Battling back

The channel, however, is defiant and has taken the fight to the government. According to a person in the know, the channel, in a representation to the Inter Ministerial Committee appointed to hear the case, has asked the Prime Minister "to not be so thin-skinned".

It has also defended its right to interpret the news as well as the right to criticise the Prime Minister.

On the issue of the preacher, the channel has argued in its plea to the high court that "there is neither an express nor an implicit reference through verse or visual to any political leader, let alone the honourable prime minister."

Panelist 'appeared to slander the PM which was repugnant to the esteemed office', says I&B ministry

Questioning the motive of the action against his channel, a Sathiyam TV executive pointed out that the committee that heard their case didn't even have Tamil speakers to translate the scripts of the show to English or Hindi.

"They asked us to come on 6 February. But as soon as we arrived at their office, we didn't find even one person who could translate the text and highlight what they thought was objectionable," said the executive, who did not wish to be named.

The official added that they asked the committee to act against the newspaper based on whose report the panelist had commented that Modi rallies tended to be bigger on paper than on the ground.

"We exercise our right to free speech and demand a fair treatment under the right to equality," the executive said. "We are feeling singled out in this whole affair. But we're not going to lie down and accept this. We'll fight this till the end."

First published: 4 September 2015, 15:15 IST
 
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.

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