Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi will be back on air in Andhra Pradesh. That is if the Andhra Pradesh government abides by the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) order. On 1 October, TDSAT came down heavily on AP State Fibernet Limited (APFSL) imposing a fine of Rs 5 lakh for blacking out the two channels since 13 September. It said if the ban continued, APFSL will have to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakh per day.
“We expect AP Fibernet to obey the order otherwise we will have to explore legal options,” Dinesh Akula, Editor of TV5 told Filter Kaapi.
The TV5 CFO Anil Singh points out that TDSAT had asked APFSL to restore the channels on 18 September and 24 September but those orders were not complied with.
Shreya Broadcasting that owns TV5 News had filed petitions against a clutch of multi system operators (MSOs) and APFSL, protesting against the discontinuation of the channel while ABN had taken only APFSL to TDSAT. The Tribunal ordered the MSOs to restore both channels in the next 24 to 48 hours.
The two channels have been in the eye of the YSRCP storm for quite some time. Before the elections, the party had stopped sending any of its representatives to their studios. During the campaign, the channels were named as pro-TDP media outfits.
Trouble mounted for both channels in May when the government changed in Andhra Pradesh. On the day he was sworn in as chief minister, Jaganmohan Reddy named the two channels and the Eenadu group, warning them against airing or printing news that was not true.
Subsequently, in July, the Andhra Pradesh assembly speaker revoked access to ABN, TV5 and ETV on ground that they were airing a press conference when the House was in session.
But the incident that reportedly led to this blackout was the impression that the coverage of the Chandrababu Naidu’s house arrest on 11 September was loaded in the TDP’s favour. The insinuation, admitted in private, was that they were switched off at the instance of the YSRCP leadership.
This is not the first time ABN is going through this experience. In 2014, the channel along with TV9 was taken off air by the MSOs in Telangana after leaders took objection to “derogatory programming that showed Telangana in poor light”. While TV9 was restored on some networks after some 140 days after TDSAT intervened, ABN took much longer to return.
The TV5 management points out that in Telangana, there was clear objection to a satirical show which was found to be in bad taste. Here, it says, no particular story is mentioned and the grouse is that the channel shows more of TDP. The media house says where is the option when the channel is boycotted by the ruling party.
The Editors Guild had recently requested the standoff in Andhra Pradesh to end but it is obvious political establishments do not quite care for such Delhi-based bodies. Like in Telangana, the message is loud and clear. A channel can be on air provided it does not put out content that is seen as openly favouring the opposition or bitterly criticising the ruling party. Given the fact that there is a huge cost to pay for staying off air, all news channels are bound to indulge in self-censorship going forward.
In this case, however, there is not much overt sympathy for the channels, especially ABN. The media group including its newspaper is seen as openly favouring Chandrababu Naidu and therefore its brand of journalism is also seen as suspect.
When Naidu was CM, the Sakshi media group was persona non grata for the TDP and the government. Sakshi TV channel was off for a significant part of 2016 after the Naidu regime took offence to its coverage of the Kapu community stir that had turned violent in East Godavari district.