Gagging Cable TV

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The government in a closed door meeting with the local cable operators on Saturday informed them about restrictions imposed on the news content.
“We have told the cable operators to adhere to the Cable Network Act 1995 in letter and spirit as under this act they can’t telecast news,” said DC Srinagar Me’raj Ahmad Kakroo.
He says the government is not imposing restrictions on media but cable operators can’t go against the law by telecasting news.
“Under the cable network act the cable operators can’t telecast news. We have given them a relaxation to air news for 15 minutes only keeping in view the programme code (rule 6) of the act,” he said.
The news and current affairs programmes aired by the local cable channels are popular among masses in the valley. In their news bulletins the local channels give extensive coverage to protests in the wake of strike calls given by the pro-freedom leadership.  During the Governor’s rule last year, the government passed orders to close down all local cable channels for some time. Later the cable operators had to render a written apology to the government for airing ‘objectionable content’ in their news bulletins.
The local cable operators, however, allege that government is selective in implementing laws when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir.
“The news and current affairs programmes are shown everywhere in other states like Delhi. There no restrictions are imposed on the news content,” said a local cable channel operator wishing not to be named. “The government allows us to operate when it suits them but when the situation changes on ground, all of a sudden they come up with these restrictions,” he added.
Cable operators say that the Cable Act is silent on the duration of news and current affairs programmes. “It is not written in the cable act that the cable channels should limit the duration of news and current affairs programmes. Only the programme and advertisement code is mentioned,” a  news in charge of a local cable channel said.
The cable operators maintain that they have registered their channels as per law with the concerned GPO, and they are not supposed to register with the Information and Broadcasting ministry. The cable operators say the government this time did not furnish any written orders about restrictions imposed on duration of news bulletins.
“They didn’t give us a formal order about the restrictions, instead we were indirectly threatened in the meeting,” said a local channel operator on condition of anonymity.
“Whenever the situation changes and there are strikes and stone pelting incidents, we report that in our news bulletins. It irks the government and then they come up with these restrictions,” he said. The cable operators say their crime is that they show the situation as it unfolds on the ground.
Another popular local cable channel says the government is not uniformly implementing the cable act in Jammu and Kashmir. If there is a Cable Act, says a local cable operator, it is meant for both Kashmir and Jammu provinces and the act should be uniformly implemented in both the regions. “But the government comes up with these laws only when it comes to Kashmir based cable channels,” said a local cable operator.
“During recent elections, the government allowed us to operate freely and we even got government ads that time,” said a producer in SEN channel.
The Cable Television Network regulation Act was passed in 1995 by the parliament and is applicable throughout India. The purpose of the act is to regulate the transmission of programmes through cable network. As the signal of foreign channels is available in India through satellite, this was considered by government of India to be a kind of cultural invasion. Under this law, every cable operator is required to be registered first. And the power rests with the central and state government as wells as district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate and commissioner of police.
Any transmission through the cable service has to conform to the prescribed programme code. Similarly, the advertisement codes have to adhered to by the cable operators.
Legal experts believe that there is a dicey clause in the Cable Act that can be used against the cable channels.
“If the programme code is not followed by the cable operators, then there is a provision under section 19 of the act, which says ‘whereas any authorised officer thinks it necessary or expedient to do so in public interest, then he can prohibit any cable operator from transmitting or retransmitting any programme which is not in conformity with the programme code, or which is likely to promote on grounds of religion, language, caste or any other grounds disharmony or feeling of enmity or hate between different  religious, racial groups or is likely to disturb public tranquillity,” senior advocate Zafar Ahamd Shah said.
Shah says it is a tricky situation but the cable operator can always take legal recourse if he feels he is not violating the cable act.
“The opinion of authorised officer is always subject to public review. And the affected cable operator can seek judicial review against the order of the authorised officer,” he says.
This time the government, according to the local cable operators, didn’t give them a written order about restrictions imposed on their news content. Zafar Shah says the public officer is supposed to pass a formal order to the cable operators if they violate the cable act.
“He has to justify how the cable operator contravenes the programme code on which he can stop the transmission of the channel,” he says.  
The cable operators, however, say that the government is adopting arm-twisting tactics, and comes up with knee-jerk reaction every time the local channels show the changing situation in the valley.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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