It may be the first incident in India, where a TV channel faces wrath from two opposite poles, the government and a banned outfit, simultaneously. The episode, where NE Television, a Guwahati based satellite channel, is targeted by both the state government of Asam and the banned United Liberation Front of Asam (ULFA) for its nationalist reporting, had received international media headlines. The Asam Government led by Traun Gogoi decided to go to court for a particular news in the channel that exposed a ?hidden tie up? between the government and ULFA leaders with regard to 33rd National Games.
On the other hand, the ULFA military chief Paresh Baruah threatened the channel to substantiate proofs for the same news within 30 days to avoid dire consequences. The immediate reactions from different corners were primarily focused on the threatening notice to the channel from the outfit leader, in which Baruah asked the channel management to prove that ULFA took money from the government. He wanted that NE Television must pack up from the region.
ULFA of course had withdrawn the boycott call on the National Games, but upheld the threat to NE Television.
Moreover, the boycott call by ULFA was reciprocated by strong resentments from different sections in Asamiya society. Even a group of journalists, in a statement released to media, appealed to the people of Asam to defy ULFA'sboycott call and cooperate in the National Games. Facing the heat of increasing public anger, the ULFA softened its stand.
The television channel controversy was triggered off by the state chief minister Tarun Gogoi with his angry declaration that his government would file a case against NE Television for reporting on alleged understanding between the government and ULFA leaders asking the banned outfit to keep low during the forthcoming National Games (February 9-18) in Asam. Addressing the media persons in New Delhi on January 31, Gogoi stated, ?I have taken the matter very seriously and we are going to file a case against the TV channel.?
Reacting to the ULFA threat, the NE Television CMD Manoranjana Sinh declared, ?I stand by my report.? She also insisted that the state government had gone for an understanding with ULFA during a hidden meeting in Kolkata, where a big corporate group was involved with an aim to keep the outfit silent during the National Games. Ms Sinh has also written to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and the Union Home Secretary VK Duggal elaborating the threat, NE Television received from ULFA.
The situation turned worse for Ms Sinh, when she decried Gogoi with few rude words during an interaction with scribes in New Delhi on February 1.
The threat to NE Television was thoroughly condemned by a group of Guwahati based editors. Senior journalists namely Kanak Sen Deka (editor of Dainik Agradoot), Direndra Nath Chakraborty (editor of Dainik Asom), Dilip Chandan (editor of Asom Bani), Hemanta Barman (editor of Dainik Janambhumi), GS Kalita (former executive editor of The Sentinel), unanimously discarded the ULFA threat. The Editors Guild of India also came to the support of the editors. In a release, sent by its president Alok Mehta and secretary general, K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, the highest body of editors stated that the Guild ?upholds the right of editors to freely express their opinion?.
Moreover, condemnation came from IFJ. A protest meeting in Guwahati Press Club on February 2 criticised the attitude of ULFA towards the media. Earlier IFJ general secretary Aidan White expressed shock at the threat to NE Television. The Press Council of India (PCI) also stepped into the episode and said in a statement that ULFA'snotice to NE television ?constitutes a grave threat to the freedom of the press, prompting it to take action under the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) regulations?.