The Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday ordered for an immediate ban on 30 Islamic and Pakistan-based religious and spiritual channels across all cable television networks.
A notification, issued by the Additional District Magistrate, Srinagar to the owner of a private cable television network based in the city, said that the operator has three days to suspend the “banned religious and news channels”.
The list of channels also includes controversial Islamic preacher, Zakir Naik’s Peace English and Peace Urdu Channels and Pakistani channels such as GEO News, ARY, QTV and Paigam TV.
The notification mentions that the cable operator has been telecasting various channels that have not been permitted by the Union Telecom Ministry. It further says that the ban is in the larger interest of public and maintenance of peace and tranquility in the state.
“Now, therefore in essence of powers conferred by the section 19 of Cable Television Networks(Regulation) Act, 1995, you are hereby directed to immediately stop telecasting the banned/ non permitted channels within a period of three days, for which a notarized affidavit be furnished to this office, failing which action as contemplating under the Provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation)Act, 1995 will be taken against you,” the government order stated.
Official sources told the International Business Times, India that the state government has directed all the Deputy Commissioners across various districts of the valley to explain why cable operators were allowed to telecast the banned channels.
The state administration has also banned various social media websites already. A letter believed to have been written by a Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Mannan Wani was recently taken down from a news portal.
Here is the list of channels that have been banned:
Peace TV English
Peace TV Urdu
Saudi Al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiyah
Sehar, Karbala TV
ARY Digital Asia
ARY News Asia
Abb Takk News
Meanwhile, the order took the cable operators by total surprise and they are now beginning to count the cost of the sudden declaration by the government to ban the viewing of thirty odd television channels in Kashmir. The channels which are beamed from the Middle East, Pakistan, and Iran have a large following among the people of Kashmir and it meant good business for the local cable operators.
“More than business loss, this ban will curb viewers’ choice. People will question our credibility once the Islamic channels go off-air especially since Hajj is approaching fast. On one side we face the government directive and on other hand strong public demand for these channels puts us in a catch-22 situation” said Amjad Noor, president of Cable operators association adding that thousands of people are associated with the cable TV business in the Valley.
Noor said this ban is an anti-trade decision which will bring down the cable TV business by almost 20-40 per cent. “We fear that people will stop subscribing to cable TV as the channels which attracted them won’t be there anymore,” Noor said.
Pertinently, several members of the cable operators association met Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, Syed Abid Rasheed and informed him about their issues.
“The only reasoning we are being given by authorities is that these (banned) channels don’t have down-link permission in India. The matter of fact is these channels are being presently aired in Kerala and Hyderabad,” Noor said.
Noor said cable operators are mulling to go for a complete shutdown of operations in case authorities don’t revoke the ban. “We will be forced to close down businesses if such extreme diktats are put into practice by the government. We have even informed the DC regarding this”, Noor said.
While accusing a national daily and its sister concern news channel for launching “ a propaganda” against the Islamic channels, Hussain said the ban has been hugely influenced by these recent media reports.
“These reports have been propagating that religious channels from Pakistan etc are fomenting trouble in Kashmir but that is not the reality. How is it possible that Saudi-based channels such as Saudi Sunnah, Saudi Al-Quran and Iran-based Karbala TV which just telecast religion specific content or a cooking channel popular among women will incite violence. We are ready to take news channels off-air but asking us to ban apolitical content is extremely unjustified,” Noor said.
Terming the ban on Islamic channels as a “direct interference on religion”, Sahil Ahmad, a cable operator said they are apprehending that the ban will lead to many of their viewers switching over to other satellite TV medias such as Dish TV causing huge losses to cable TV operators in Kashmir.
“We are appalled that the same government which used to say that cable TV offers a sense of normalcy is now clamping down these channels. Government has failed to realize that these are free to air channels beamed across the world but instead they are taking bizarre decisions by banning them. Instead of banning Islamic channels, the government should put several national news channels under scanner for “fomenting trouble” by telecasting “exaggerated content on Kashmir”, said Ahmed. Ahmed said these religious channels have been operational for last 20 years ever since cable TV started in Kashmir ” but we never faced any problems with these channels”, he added. “In fact we were told to stop cable news channels in 2010 which we adhered to but what difference has that made to the ground level situation. In terms of beaming of channels, we offer religious channels of all faiths to viewers so what is the point in banning religious channels of just one religion. It is an assault on religion,” he said.