The government has withdrawn the Al Jazeera English television channel’s security clearance, without which it will need to stop broadcasting in the country. While no explanation was given, sources told ET the decision stemmed from the broadcast of a documentary about militancy in Kashmir that was deemed as being biased.
The fate of the network, which is still on air, now depends on the home ministry’s ruling on a petition by the channel seeking a review, top officials said. For a channel to broadcast content in India, it needs security clearance from the home ministry while the information and broadcasting ministry gives the broadcasting licence.
According to official documents, the security clearance was given by the home ministry on December 3, 2010 and withdrawn on May 29, 2018. Al Jazeera English is run by AJI International Pvt Ltd. Al Jazeera English executives declined to comment. There was no response from the home ministry to the queries. The channel told the government in its representation that the documentary on militant networks in Kashmir devoted a substantial 10 minutes to the central government’s efforts and the views of its officials.
This was in the complete version of the documentary but was missed by home ministry officials in the edited version presented to them, the channel said.
This is not the first time Al Jazeera is facing trouble in India.
In 2015, the channel was suspended for five days because it showed an incorrect map of India with respect to Jammu and Kashmir. Al Jazeera was suspended because it was a repeat offence, an official said. The channel showed a blank screen for five days with a message to this effect: “As instructed by the ministry of information and broadcasting, this channel will not be available from 00.01 hours on April 22 till 00.01hours on April 27, 2015.”
India has given 867 private satellite TV channels permission for uplinking and downlinking content, according to government figures until June. Permissions for 236 have been withdrawn due to various reasons such as the channel owner seeking cancellation, non-operationalisation of the channel, non-submission of documents and other reasons.
Permissions for 147 channels were cancelled between 2015 and June 2018. Eighteen channels including ABC News, Voice of Nation, Focus NE TV, Jhankar News, Maa TV, Bhakti Sagar, M Tunes, Lemon News and their subsidiary channels have been denied licences over security reasons.
According to sources, the government is keen to call out and prevent any adverse reporting on Kashmir by foreign media outlets. In May, the external publicity division of ministry of external affairs (MEA) sent letters to foreign journalists reminding them that they require prior permission to travel to certain areas under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958. These include Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan.
In 2015, the home ministry denied security clearance to 33 channels of the Kalanithi Maran-promoted Sun TV network on the grounds that they had an “adverse impact on economic security” of the country. The Sun TV network, however, moved court to get the clearances restored. Al Jazeera English is an offshoot of the Qatar-based Arabic Al Jazeera channel, which has often been a target of ire in the Middle East. It’s been described as one of the factors in the ongoing Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar.