November 7, 2016 - Updated on August 23, 2019

Indian news channel suspended for 24 hours over terrorism coverage

Reporters Without Borders today condemned an order by the Indian government suspending the news channel NDTV for 24 hours over its coverage of an attack on a military base in January. The press freedom organization called on the authorities to stop using national security as a pretext for silencing the media.

Since June, the Indian government has had the power to issue closure orders of up to 30 days without authorization by a judge. NDTV has been ordered off the air for 24 hours from midnight on 9 November.

The order was issued by the inter-ministerial committee of the ministry of information and broadcasting, which said the channel disclosed "strategically-sensitive details" about the Pathankot air force base when it was attacked by terrorists suspected to be from Pakistan.

The order, published two days ago, said the channel’s report included details of fighter aircraft, munitions stores, rocket-launchers, mortars, helicopters and fuel tanks which was likely to be used by the terrorists themselves or their handlers and “had the potential to cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defence personnel."

Seven Indian soldiers were killed in the attack.

The committee also said the channel had breached the code that bans live coverage of anti-terrorist operations by security forces.

“This penalty is a deterrent not only to the channel, but also to all news organizations whose editorial line may not meet the authorities’ approval,” said Benjamin Ismäil, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

"By forcing the channel to suspend programmes temporarily, the government knows that it is inflicting a financial penalty without requiring the payment of a fine. At the same time, it is making the public aware of the punishment."

"The response is disproportionate and we call for the penalty to be cancelled. The closure of a news organization, even temporarily, should be not be imposed by anyone other than a judge, at the risk of compromising freedom of the press as guaranteed under the Indian constitution. The 1994 regulations relating to cable operators must be reformed.”

NDTV responded the same day, asserting that its coverage of the incident was similar to that of other news outlets and condemned the fact that it was singled out for punishment.

Television channels have previously been ordered off the air by the Indian government but this was the first time that a temporary suspension had been imposed under the rules on the coverage of terrorism, which have been in effect since last year.

India is ranked 133rd in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by RSF.