In Telangana, India, 70 members of press detained, two channels blocked, media threatened

New York, September 11, 2014–Scores of journalists and media workers were briefly detained Tuesday and Wednesday in India’s newly carved state of Telangana after protesting the blocking of two local TV news channels, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detentions and calls on the state’s chief minister to stop using incendiary language against the press.

Around 70 journalists, media workers, and employees of news outlets were arrested earlier this week while protesting the blacking out of two local TV channels, according to news reports. The privately owned Telugu-language news channels, TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothy, have been blocked by cable providers for three months, according to reports.

Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has accused the stations of airing biased coverage following the June split of Andhra Pradesh state that led to the creation of Telangana state, reports said. The minister also accused the stations of deliberately airing coverage against Telangana interests. “If anybody tries to denigrate or hurt the self-respect of Telangana, Telangana Assembly, Telangana culture…we will break their necks,” he said, according to reports. “Be careful. Beware or else we will bury you 10 kilometers (under the earth).”

“We condemn the arrests of journalists and threats against the press,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “If Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao wants a free and thriving Telangana, he should respect the role of critical media. His government should ensure that the transmissions of TV9 and ABN Andhra Jyothy are restored.”

TV9 transmissions were blocked after the channel aired political satire critical of Rao’s party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), during the government’s swearing-in ceremony in June, according to news accounts. TV9 later apologized for the segment.

ABN Andhra Jyothy denied that it aired any offensive content and refused to issue an apology, according to reports. The channel said it was being targeted for exposing alleged wrongdoing by members of the ruling party, the reports said.

The Telangana legislative assembly unanimously passed a resolution in June, authorizing its speaker to initiate any legal action he deemed fit against the two news channels for airing allegedly “objectionable” programs and “belittling comments” against the legislative body, The Indian Express reported.

Earlier this month, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, a body that adjudicates disputes in the telecom sector, ordered cable providers to resume transmitting both channels as they were not found to be in violation of any laws, according to media reports. The cable operators did not comply, the channels said.

Rao praised the cable operators for blocking the transmission of the channels, which he said were acting of their own accord. According to news reports, some local journalists said they doubted that the cable operators were operating at their own behest. Subhash Reddy, president of the Federation of Telangana Multiple System Operators, which represents multiple cable operators, said in August that cable operators had blocked the channels because they had aired “objectionable content that hurt the sentiments of Telangana people,” according to news reports. “There was pressure on us from the Telangana people and we had to act,” Reddy said.

Cable operators in India have come under greater political control, frequently blocking telecasts of channels carrying information deemed politically unfavorable, CPJ research shows. The TRS has denied that the state government had any role in taking the channels off the air.

TV9 has courted controversy in the past for what some journalists believe are unethical journalistic practices, accusing them of harassing women and exposing gay men in a sting operation.

Rao’s comments drew widespread criticism from the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party and the Congress party in the state, according to news accounts.