On Wednesday night, shortly after the parliament cleared the bill and reports of violence from Assam started coming in, the ministry issued an advisory to all private TV channels asking them to desist from broadcasting content that could incite violence or cause law and order problems. It also warned the channels from showing content that “promotes anti-national attitudes and/or contains anything affecting the integrity of the nation."
The ministry has an electronic media monitoring centre that keeps track of TV content all day and night flagging issues that can be contentious to law and order in the country, and to the government. The ministry also has a new media cell, and a fact-checker unit under the Press Information Bureau that keep a tab on online content whenever necessary
According to an official who requested anonymity, the advisory was deemed important on Wednesday night as "some groups of channels had started harsh commentary on MPs who had voted in favour of the CAB on Thursday, and were constantly showing protests with people defying curfew that as imposed in parts of Assam on Wednesday night."
Some of the content in regional channels such as Pratidin Time and others such as Dy365, Prag News were closely watched and discussed, said an official in know of the matter.
"There was a channel that constantly talked about the 'betrayal' of the Assamese cause by the MPs who voted in favour of the bill. There was another that showed an unverified report of BJP MLA threatening the protestors. It was felt that some of the coverage was aimed to creating unrest. So to keep a sense of calm, an advisory was sent out at night itself," an official said.
On Thursday, indefinite curfew was imposed in Guwahati and Dibrugarh, and mobile internet services were also suspended for another 48 hours in 10 districts of Assam. Around 200 protestors were also detained in the state and two protesters succumbed to bullet injuries.
The I&B ministry's advisory also referred to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 to caution TV channels from broadcasting content which is “likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order."
The programming code for TV channels states that any programme should not contain visuals or words "which are contemptuous of religious groups and should not promote anti-national attitudes, or show anything that affects the integrity of the nation."
According to existing rules, when a channel is found to violate any aspect of the programme code, the I&B ministry can suspend it for a few days, impose a penalty or even revoke it license.
The I&B ministry sends regular advisories to TV channels over their coverage of important issues. Recently there was one advising caution and restraint that was sent to all media associations, right before the Ayodhya verdict. The ministry in the past has also sent show-cause notices to news channels for what it alleged was biased coverage of Yakub Memon's hanging.
Subsequently, on Thursday, a report sent to top officials in the government the I&B ministry noted a marked difference in the way protests were covered by local channels after the advisory was sent out.
"It was felt that the anchors and reporters were far more restrained, and there were also voices of people advising restraint to the protestors added to the reports, something that was completely missing on Wednesday night," a top official in the government said.
Top government officials said though mobile internet network was not working, broadband internet was working in several places in Assam which meant more video content was being made and shared. TV channels who are circumventing internet shutdowns to promote videos are also being monitored, a person in the know of the matter said.
The newly formed fake news burster unit of the Press Information Bureau has also initiated a campaign to address the issues being raised by those opposed to the bill. Mainly targeted at an Assamese audience, the unit has come up with a blog to be shared on online platforms, on how the "CAB will not dilute the sanctity of Assam Accord."
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