Within hours of banning two Malayalam news channels, the Modi government did a U-turn and rolled back the orders which drew flak from the opposition.
Late Friday evening the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had imposed a 48-hour ban on Asianet News and MediaOne for the biased coverage of the Delhi riots, accusing them of siding with a particular community and highlighting attacks on places of worship.
However, the channels were back on air within hours after an intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar said the Prime Minister expressed concern over the move and directed revocation of the order immediately.
“Our basic thought process is that press freedom is essential in a democratic set-up,” Javadekar told reporters when asked about the move. However, he added that everybody should accept that freedom of the press also came with certain responsibilities.
The minister said he has spoken to the owner of Asianet News, which was back on air late Friday night, while MediaOne was on-air Saturday morning.
Sources said Asianet News management tendered an unconditional apology, but Media One maintained that they did not apologise. Minister of State for External Affairs and BJP leader from Kerala V Muraleedharan said that Asianet News’s ban was lifted after they tendered apology while the ban on Media One was lifted in order to ensure equal justice.
Opposition parties hit out at the Modi government for its interference in the freedom of the press.
“Subjugate, stifle, suppress is the “mantra” of BJP! Is this ‘New India’,” asked Congress’ chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala.
Sitaram Yechury, CPM General Secretary condemned the ban in strong words.
Meanwhile, in Thiruvananthapuram, protests mounted against the decision. Strongly condemning the action against the news channels, Kerala Chief Minister and senior CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan said that an undeclared emergency was prevailing in the country.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists staged a protest march in Thiruvananthapuram. The ban on Asianet News had raised many eyebrows as Jupiter capital chaired by BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar is the major investor in it.