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Citing ‘Security Clearance’, I&B Ministry Threatens to Cancel Kolkata TV's License

The Bengali news channel has been known for its critical stand on the Narendra Modi government.

Kolkata: Within a week of Kolkata TV owner Kaustav Roy having to appear before the Enforcement Directorate to answer questions on his finances, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has a sent a notice to the channel authorities, asking for a reply within seven days on why its license should not be cancelled.

The letter to the channel authorities, dated September 27, cited the Ministry of Home Affairs’ denial of ‘security clearance’ to the channel as the ground for cancelling their license.

“Due to denial of fresh security clearance, the permission to uplink and downlink the TV channel, “Kolkata TV”, teleport at Kolkata and DSNG vans cannot be renewed,” the letter from the I&B ministry, titled ‘Show Cause Notice’, said.

Launched in 2006, Kolkata TV, a Bengali news channel, has been known for its critical stand on the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, while being sympathetic towards the state’s Mamata Banerjee government. It currently has 322 employees.

This notice comes close on the heels of the Income Tax department conducting ‘surveys’ on the premises of Newslaundry and Newsclick, two digital media platforms known for their critical coverage of the Modi government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The I&B ministry’s letter to Kolkata TV, signed by under secretary Vijay Kaushik, refers to the channel’s proposal for fresh security clearance to uplink and downlink after the expiry of the initial security clearance and says that the proposal “was forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the security clearance was denied by MHA”.

The letter adds that under Clause 9.2 of Uplinking Guidelines, permission may be granted only after security clearance to the company by the MHA and that “the license/permission can be revoked on grounds of national security and public order.”

Responding to the notice, Kolkata TV owner Kaustav Roy said the Union government was trying to silence the media critical of the prime minister by hook or by crook.

“This is a blatant way to gag the voice of free press. We will continue to raise our voice, we will protest against this fascist undemocratic regime of Mr Modi. We will not succumb to any such pressure. We hope the democratic people of this country and the democratic political parties will support our struggle,” Roy told The Wire.

Kolkata TV’s coverage over the past few years have been sympathetic towards the Trinamool Congress and critical of the BJP.

In 2018, the CBI had arrested Roy in connection with a complaint of economic fraud lodged by several banks. The ED, too, had conducted some raids at the premises of Roy’s offices, at that time. Earlier this month, Roy received a notice from the ED to appear before them in connection with the same case. On September 22, he spent seven hours at the ED’s office in Kolkata, answering their questions. He has been asked to submit a number of papers.

“The CBI and the ED failed to silence us. Now, they want to shut down the entire channel. Even during the pandemic and the lockdowns, we did not deduct from the salaries of our employees, nor did we take any retrenchment measure. But the Modi government is not liking it because we don’t question (Jawaharlal) Nehru,” Roy said on Tuesday.

Responding to the I&B ministry’s action, TMC Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien wrote on Twitter, “When TV channels, newspapers and committed journalists EXPOSE and don’t suck up to Modi’s BJP, here is what they get. Stay strong, all media.”

Another TMC spokesperson and youth wing leader, Debangshu Bhattacharya, wrote on Twitter, “Attack on Kolkata TV. Through objective journalism, this channel has repeatedly unmasked the central government. Central Government has now cancelled the Uplink & downlink renewing request of Kolkata TV. Will the Delhi media stand by them? Or enjoy with popcorn?”

On Tuesday, the state’s BJP leaders did not agree to comment on the issue. Last month, the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari had declined to answer questions by a Kolkata TV journalist at a public event, saying its owner had attended political events and was a political person.

According to columnist and political commentator Suman Bhattacharya, Kolkata TV’s editorial programme Choturtha Stambha, meaning the fourth pillar, might have irked the Union to the extent that it wants to shut down the channel entirely.

“It seems that their late-night editorial programme, Choturtha Stambha, which has been a hit, is the reason behind this action. The programme attacked the Centre more often than not. I might not agree with all its editorial content but it’s no way to handle the media in a democratic country, especially at a time when we are preparing to celebrate 75 years of Independence. This is a brazen attack on the freedom of the press,” Bhattacharya said.

Speaking to The Wire on the condition of anonymity, a Bengal BJP leader said, “In July, Roy, while attending a public event, had issued veiled threats to Suvendu Adhikari. We hear that Adhikari took it up with the central leadership. The action against the channel may be a reaction to that.”

On the other hand, responding to allegations of political bias, Roy said, “If the BJP has a problem with me, let them deal with me. Why shut down the whole channel throwing more than 300 employees out of jobs?”