The Buck May NOT Stop at the LOC

It is ironical that – the news about the “token” penalty on NDTV should come so soon after the Prime Minister’s Diwali Milan with the media at the BJP Head-quarters – where much bon-homie was on display.

The Modi government seems to be spoiling for a showdown. One cannot be sure if the order against NDTV will finally be carried out – but it could not have been cleared without a nod from the highest level. It is clearly intended to send out a strong message and it is NOT about the Freedom of the Press.

After having been at the receiving end of their Pakistan Policy for a long time, Narendra Modi government has decided to get tough on cross-border terror. It may be argued – they see this as a plank to ride into the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh polls. Be that as it may – with enough non-state actors abroad trying to queer the pitch, they do not want too many cooks at home to meddle in the action.

The Media itself has often talked of “self-regulation” and “self-censorship” but one has not seen much evidence of talk getting translated into intent (not even action) in a collegial club. This becomes even more tricky in electronic media – which is instant and visual – often allowing very little time for exercising editorial judgement – in a 24/7 world, where a “scoop” or “exclusive” does not last for more than a few seconds.

It could be simply a matter of perception or “subjective interpretation” that some media outlets have been seen to be “serial offenders” while covering some sensitive issues and events. This need not relate to terror attacks alone but anything jeopardising national security – which might include even covering insurgency, as in Kashmir.

An important distinction needs also to be made also between “opinion” and revealing vital information. If it was the former – that would indeed be an assault on the freedom of expression. But, when it comes to reporting – media has to exercise its own judgement and discretion – both on veracity and sensitivity and cannot claim immunity as a matter of right – without even a whimper of an apology or regret. Opinion can be divided but facts are sacrosanct.

The government probably wishes to draw a line somewhere and tell people where to get off. Define “go” and “no go” areas as it were.

This might lead to protracted confrontation. The government would have certainly weighed the possible. consequences and prepared for a lengthy stand-off.

There is even a possibility of this going to court, which may be a good idea as the ground rules or terms of engagement will get settled for good. (Read @ndtv statement here)

But, for now someone, somewhere seems to have said “enough is enough”.

Or as Kanchan Gupta tweeted: Well not banned. @ndtv is off the air for 24 hours for violating code on terror attack coverage. TRP can’t supercede security.

But, will the buck stop here?