Srinagar, India, Asharq Al-Awsat- India has been criticized severely for allegedly banning the two leading Arabic news channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabia as a result of Israeli pressure in wake of the Israel-Lebanon crisis according to a local Saudi daily.
The Indian government however, has vehemently denied these allegations claiming that such an accusation simply aims to spoil relations between India and the Arab world.
The Indian Minister for Information and Broadcasting Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi stated, “The channels have been taken off air since they failed to conform to the downlinking guidelines issued by the Indian Information Ministry. There has been no such ban.”
Since May, cable operators had been instructed not to broadcast any channels that had failed to register by May 11 2006. There had been no uproar following the disappearance of the two Arab channels for nearly two months, however, after the Lebanon crisis, “parts of the media had projected the matter in the wrong way,” stated the minister.
India introduced a new law in November 2005, obligating all foreign channels downlinking to India to be registered under the Indian Companies Act, 1956.
The Indian government announced May 10, 2006 as the registration deadline. The downlinking guidelines mandate that “No cable operator or DTH service provider shall, after the expiry of 180 days from the date of this notification, carry or include in his cable/DTH network any television channel that has not been registered under these guidelines.” But, after the concession was made, the Ministry informed cable networks and DTH platforms that they could continue to show applicant channels for another six months or till such time as the registration application is processed — whichever is earlier.
As many as 65 foreign channels applied for registration, including six news and current affairs channels, five sports channels, and 54 entertainment channels that are posted on the Indian Information Ministry’s website.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry cancelled the transmission of 30 foreign television channels that had not observed the downlinking procedures. As well as Al Jazeera and Al-Arabia, these included Gulf-based MBC’s five film and entertainment channels, Channel G, TVN, Dubai TV, KTN, BVN, NHK, Saudi TV, RTP, One TV, Pakistani channels PTV 1 and PTV 2, Sindh TV, Rung TV, religious channel QTV, Real Madrid, Dubai Sport and Eurosport besides other music channels.
The channels that did not apply for registration could not be downlinked in India after the expiry of a six-month period on 10 May 2006. ”The rule is universal and is applicable to all foreign channels. It is not a rule for Arab channels only, “said Baijendra Kumar, Joint Secretary at the Indian Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
”The two channels (Al Jazeera and Al Arabia) are yet to register to be downlinked in India,” the ministry said, adding they could still apply afresh. These channels however can only be seen in Indian cable homes once the government permits this, which may take longer in comparison to those channels that had applied within the set deadline,” said an official from the information and broadcasting ministry.
The official explained that a channel applying for registration after the deadline would be given less priority than other networks that made an effort to adhere to the guidelines.
The two Arab channels however are available via receivers at some hotels and media offices.
Dr Waiel S.H. Awwad, Bureau Chief of Al Arabia TV India based in Delhi refuted the claim that the network had been banned. “We are accessing the channel without any hindrance,” he said.
Khalid Al Anzi, Indian correspondent for the official Kuwaiti News Agency (KUNA), told the Indo-Asian News Agency (IANS), “India is the largest democracy in the world and the authorities would not ban the telecast of any news channel’.
The controversy was brought to the fore when an Arab newspaper quoted an Arab businesswoman staying in a five star hotel in Mumbai on the non-availability of Arab channels in India.
Meanwhile, the Indian hotel industry has also denied that there has been any government directive to ban Arabic channels. “We are showing Al Arabia and have not received any instruction from the government to take them off,” said Protima Vasan, the communications manager at the Hotel Maurya Sheraton & Towers in Delhi.
No comments have been made by representatives of either of the Arab stations in India on the matter. A Gulf publication quoting Jihad Ballout, official spokesperson of Al Arabia TV, stated that he denied that India had taken such action due to pressure from Israel. He was reported to have said, “We are not aware of any registration rules set by the Indian government. However if this is the case and the Arabic channels have been taken off air in India, we as a responsible organization respect the decision of the Indian government.”