Cable, TV outlets shut amid push for statehood in India

New York, August 12, 2012–Authorities in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal have shut down cable TV service, including news channels, in the city of Darjeeling and surrounding districts amid ongoing protests in the region, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns this move and calls on the state authorities to immediately restore service.

Local police shut down the operations of two cable providers on Thursday night after visiting the outlets’ offices and demanding to see their registration forms and other documents, including a list of customers, according to the Delhi-based TV news station NDTV. The employees of Darjeeling Combined Cable Network (DCCN) and Darjeeling Milky Way Cable said they told police the documents were not in the office and that they were in the possession of the owners of the networks, the reports said. News accounts have said the shutdown is indefinite.

The same day, police also raided the offices of local TV channels Himali, Darjeeling Television, and Hamro, and confiscated tapes and transmitters from the outlets, according to The Times of India. Residents in the region were unable to access the cable TV channels on Monday evening, the reports said.

Local residents have said they believe the closures are an attempt by state authorities to crack down on coverage of demonstrations by several local TV channels, according to news reports. Over the past week, protesters in the region have been demonstrating for the creation of a separate state, called Gorkhaland, to be carved from West Bengal. The new state would represent the Gorkha population of India, who are Nepalese by ethnicity.

The movement gained momentum this month after a decision by the Indian government to grant full statehood to a region within the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

“Such high-handed tactics to address political turbulence are unacceptable and doomed to fail,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Cutting off access to television news in this manner is evidence that the Indian democracy still has a long way to go.”

In June, CPJ reported on attacks against cameramen covering political clashes in the same state.

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