The one-day ban of news channel NDTV India is a significant escalation against India’s free press. The government has long monopolised the carriage of speech, particularly radio and television, a stranglehold broken only by the rise of private cable TV in the mid-1990s. All channels are forced to obey the Programme Code, a bizarre, poorly-drafted censorship law which is clearly unconstitutional.
In India, a cable television channel’s content has invited a government warning, which the channel has judicially challenged. The incident recasts light on India’s absurd system of television censorship, which primarily flows from the Cable Televison Act, 1995. A poorly-drafted list of prohibited content, called the Programme Code, is interpreted by a group of unaccountable bureaucrats with no specialized knowledge of television, arts, or the law. Similar to the erstwhile section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was recently judicially struck down for vagueness, the Programme Code has survived by evading judicial scrutiny. How does such arbitrary censorship subsist? Humpty Dumpty might have the best answer.