Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Blocked Indian channels back on air

AFP , NEW DELHI

Television channels ordered off the air after the airing of footage allegedly exposing government involvement in the 2002 mass killings of Muslims resumed broadcasting late on Saturday, reports said.

The Headlines Today private television network began broadcasting on Thursday an expose of men accused of taking part in the deadly riots apparently admitting they had been encouraged by Hindu groups allied with the government.

On Friday, cable operators in the state's commercial capital Ahmedabad received written orders from a local official to block the Aaj Tak (Until Today) and Headlines Today channels, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Saturday.

Channels that covered the expose, which comes as the state readies for assembly elections in December, were also ordered off the air, it said.

But late on Saturday, cable distribution resumed of the three major networks targeted, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

Ahmedabad's top local administrator Dhananjay Dwivedi told PTI on Saturday that his orders to block the controversial programming had been misinterpreted.

"It was clearly stated to the cable operators that only the particular news program on the sting operation on the riot incidents and other such programs should not be shown," he said. "There was no ban on the networks showing other programs."

State poll officer Ashok Manek was quoted as saying that Dwivedi had ordered the channels off air, citing concerns about sparking "communal feeling," a term often used to describe tensions between religious groups in India.

Police verbally told cable operators in other parts of the state to stop carrying the channels, a Hindustan Times report said.

The channels showed interviews secretly recorded by a reporter of the investigative news magazine Tehelka (Sensation) with several men allegedly involved in riots in Gujarat state that left at least 2,000 Muslims dead.

A leading journalists' body, the Editors Guild of India, denounced the black-out as a "blatant assault" on press freedom, its president Alok Mehta said.

The 2002 rioting broke out after a Muslim mob was accused of torching a train, burning 59 Hindus alive. An inquiry by the state-run railways later ruled that the fire on the train that had sparked the riots had been an accident.

After the riots, many victims and rights groups accused the Hindu nationalist-ruled local government of backing the violence. Tehelka's investigation also pointed to alleged support for the carnage from police and state politicians.

Some men reportedly said that Gujarat's hawkish Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a member of India's main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, gave Hindu mob leaders three days to do "whatever" they wanted.

The expose prompted renewed calls from rights activists for tough court action.

"The courts have heard the charges, but if they don't expedite the hearing, evidence can be lost," said Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace.

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