Freedom of speech? Not in India’s Punjab

Kanwar Sandhu is synonymous with journalism in Punjab. Beginning his career with “The Tribune”, the region’s leading English daily published from Chandigarh he was soon spotted by “India Today”, India’s leading news magazine. During the days of insurgency in Punjab, he frequently wrote investigative reports about the militancy afflicting the state. During this period of turmoil his name and fame spread far and wide.

Later the “Indian Express” picked him up as the resident editor of the Chandigarh and Punjab edition of the national newspaper. His reporting and writings always covered all aspects of the story, including the often ignored opposition’s point of view. This was appreciated by the newspaper readers of the region. When “Hindustan Times” launched its Chandigarh edition, they entrusted the resident editorship of the newspaper to Kanwar Sandhu. In 2010, a Chandigarh based business house expressed its desire to launch a news channel from Chandigarh. Kanwar Sandhu offered his services as the managing editor.

On August 11, 2010, a twenty four hour trilingual (Punjabi, Hindi and English) news channel, known as DAY & NIGHT NEWS was launched with a lot of fanfare. This news channel was very different from the other channels in the region. It gave full coverage to all the divergent political points of view. The people in power did not like his independence. They wanted their side of the story only to be carried. Within two months, the powerful cartel of cable operators in Punjab started harassing this channel.

At times their sound was cut and at other times the picture was scrambled. After sometime, the channel was forcibly withdrawn from all cable systems in Punjab. This channel approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which ruled in favor of the channel. In spite of the orders of the high court, the powerful cartel of cable operators in Punjab known as FAST WAY Communications did not let this channel get on to the cable systems in Punjab. The advertisers were forced not to give commercials to this channel.

This adversely affected the fiscal health of the channel. Initially carried by six DTH dish platforms, this channel got confined to just two i.e. DD Direct+ and Dish TV. On August 1, 2013, the financiers of the channel, citing reasons of fiscal difficulties, refused to pay dues to the remaining two dish platforms also. Seeing no platform on which this channel could be seen, Mr. Kanwar Sandhu was forced into resigning. Along with him, a lot of senior staff also resigned. There are rumors that Kanwar Sandhu was ousted by the people in power in Punjab for refusing to toe their line. In April 2013, Kanwar Sandhu launched a new phone-in program for the viewers in North America. The name of the show was “HELLO NORTH AMERICA”. This program became instantly very popular. Sandhu was flooded with lots of calls and e-mails from all over the world.

Most callers were highly critical of the Punjab Government. The people in power did not like this and now we see Mr. Kanwar Sandhu has been ousted from a news channel, which was his own baby. Mr. Kanwar Sandhu has paid the price for his honesty, fair mindedness and brilliance. After Kanwar Sandhu’s ouster it appears that light has gone out of the channel. The editorial policy of the channel has changed from absolutely fair stand to all to pro- Punjab Government. Now there is no channel in Punjab, which can dare to criticize the government for its wasteful and flawed governance.

The state government wanted all Punjabi TV channels in Punjab to be completely pliant and by hook or crook they have subjugated the last citadel of independence in Punjab. Now the tyranny will increase and no one will be able to raise the voice of dissent. We are claiming that India is a democracy, but in actuality we are heading towards a feudal autocracy. You can contact Mr. Kanwar Sandhu by email at sankanwar@gmail.com

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