Statement titled ‘Roll back the arbitrary & illegal actions against the news media in Tamil Nadu’ and Resolutions adopted at consultation meeting held at Chennai on 1st July 2018

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STATEMENT:

Roll back the arbitrary & illegal actions against the news media in Tamil Nadu

The Tamil Nadu government’s attitude towards the news media has hit a new low and there is a systematic attempt to manufacture and spread a chilling effect. There is a spike in the number of criminal cases, invoking various sections of the Indian Penal Code, that are registered against journalists and other media persons doing their job in a perfectly legal and legitimate way. There are oral communications from the government cautioning television news channels against covering people’s protests and, in some cases, against allowing critical voices to participate in debates. Veiled threats on the consequences news channels will face if these oral instructions are not complied with are followed up with punitive actions that clearly violate the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.A notable fact is that theTamil Nadu government has been repeatedly using its distribution network, Arasu Cable,as an instrumentality arbitrarily and illegally to penalise television news broadcastersfor the ‘offence’ of covering people’s protests and movements or broadcastingcomment and opinion not to the liking of the government. This not only inhibits the free flow of information by creating or reinforcing a chilling effect, but also stifles freedom of expression.

The Puthiya Thalaimurai case exemplifies all these problems. The news channel was slapped with a case under Sections 153A and 505 of  the Indian Penal Code and also under a provision of a state act relating to damage or loss caused to property, for remarks made by guests participating in a discussion programme. The Arasu Cable TV Corporation pushed the news channel down from the 124th to the 499th slot, removed it in some places from the Tamil cluster of channels, and even regrouped it with channels in other languages. These are not isolated instances. Several news channels have faced black-outs, or other forms of deliberate ‘overgain’ distortion, for periods varyingfrom a day to a couple of months at the hands of Arasu Cable.

We, journalists of Tamil Nadu representing the various news media, strongly condemn these arbitrary and illegal official actions of the state government. We ask for animmediate roll back of these measures. In particular, weurge thegovernment to stop using its cable distribution company to censor television news channels and also immediately to withdrawthe cases instituted against news channels and journalists who are legitimately exercising their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, of which media freedom is an integral part.

We look forward to having a working environment in which journalists, other news media persons, and news organisations functioning onprint, broadcast, and digital platforms can go about their work freely and productively, as envisaged by the Constitution, in a state that has many advantages and is widely viewed as a progressive state by the rest of India.

RESOLUTION:

  1. This consultation resolves to adopt the Statement titled ‘Roll back the arbitrary & illegal actions against the news media in Tamil Nadu’, which has been signed by journalists and other stakeholders in the news media industry.

2. It resolves to send a representative delegation led by N. Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group, to call on the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Edappadi K. Palanisami, to register our concerns over the erosion of media freedom in the State and to press our demands.

3. It further resolves to represent the issues highlighted in this Statement to the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which is the unified and collective voice of private news & current affairs broadcasters in India.

4. This consultation resolves to constitute a cross-media advocacy and action group called the Alliance for Media Freedom, which will, in the first instance, monitor the state of media freedom in Tamil Nadu, and advocate appropriate measures and work out effective action plans to safeguard media freedom and independence through legal and democratic means.