Monday, August 12, 2013

TV in India's Darjeeling Blocked For Covering Separatists' Protests



On July 18, India’s Jammu and Kashmir state government blocked the internet by issuing a verbal order to an internet service provider to suspend services following violence when an elite police unit attacked unarmed protestors (Please see July 24 posting on this blog). Three weeks later, on August 8, similar restrictions are reported in Darjeeling in West Bengal after television stations covered protests by ethnic Gorkhas demanding a separate state (Gorkhaland) to be carved out of West Bengal.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that police had confiscated transmitters and tapes of local TV stations. They had also entered the offices of two cable TV networks – Darjeeling Combined Cable Network (DCCN) and Darjeeling Milky Way Cable – and demanded to see registration documents and lists of customers. “Such high-handed tactics to address political turbulence are unacceptable and doomed to fail,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Cutting off access to television news in this manner is evidence that the Indian democracy still has a long way to go.”

The online news site, Wire, said however that the West Bengal government had issued letters to cable networks ordering they stop broadcasting. It said that 70% of Darjeeling is served by the two  networks.  Wire reported Bimal Gurung, leader of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) spearheading the struggle for a separate state had “retaliated by asking his fellow-party members ‘to uproot the mobile towers’. ‘Animals and birds are harmed by radiation and we do not need mobile network,’” the Wire reported Gurung as saying.

“The Darjeeling blackout is of a piece with the political establishment’s distrust of the media, particularly new media. Hence the attempts to enforce bans or formulate restrictive legislation like Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, such restrictions have the opposite effect, fuelling further disenchantment…,” said an opinion piece in the Times of India online edition.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) has placed India in 140th position among 179 countries in its press Freedom Index, “[i]ts lowest since 2002 because of increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because Internet censorship continues to grow.”

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