KATHMANDU -- Amid growing Nepal and India tensions over a border dispute, Nepali cable and satellite operators voluntarily stopped broadcasting Indian news channels in a show of solidarity with the government and its unofficial ban due to recent propaganda smearing Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli.
The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been increasingly worried about Oli's pro-China policy and fears losing its geopolitical clout over its northern neighbor. Indian news channels appear to share Modi's concerns as they engage in questionable journalism.
While India's state-sponsored channel Doordarshan has continued to broadcast across Nepal without interruption, most Indian news channels suffered a temporary ban in the country last week. The ban was mostly lifted on Monday, but Zee News, Aaj Tak, India TV and ABP News are still prevented from airing on Nepalese television.
Dhurba Sharma, vice chairman of Max Digital TV, a Kathmandu-based digital television service, told the Nikkei Asian Review that Nepal's cable television operators banned the Indian news channels "to safeguard the nation's sovereignty and community sensitivity."
The government advised cable operators on Monday to continue banning these Indian news channels until the situation improves. Released on Sunday through the Nepali embassy in New Delhi, an official government note also said: "Hateful expressions that do not maintain even the minimum professional standards are insulting to Nepal and Nepalese."
A 16-minute video, titled "Oli's Romance" and televised in Nepal last week by Zee News, portrayed the Nepalese prime minister as having fallen in love with Hou Yanqi, the female Chinese ambassador to Nepal, and was working against India on her behalf. The shocking clip also claimed that China had a sex video and photos of Oli to keep him on a leash. The broadcast also showed a fictional conversation between Oli and Yanqi in Hindi.
The video also used terms like queen, poisonous damsel, viceroy, and honeytrap for describing Yanqi.
Nepal-India relations have hit rock bottom due to a border dispute in the Kalapani region of northwestern Nepal. New Delhi revealed a politicized map last November showing the region as part of its sovereign territory, which prompted Kathmandu to retaliate in May by issuing its own map showing the disputed region as its own.
In addition to Zee News, TV9 Bharatvarsh and other Indian news channels have pushed the narrative that Oli had an illicit affair with Yanqi.
Nepalese are highly critical of Indian news channels. Analysts in Nepal believe the propaganda was aired to vilify Oli and try to force him from office.
"Press freedom has its limitations and set of rules," Kishor Shrestha, the Nepal Press Council chief, told Nikkei. He said that "India professes to be the largest democratic country, but its media churn out undemocratic and propaganda content."
The NPC, in a letter to the Press Council of India last Friday, expressed outrage against Zee News and other Indian news channels, saying: "The video story has not only fantasized framed information but also attacked the integrity of a sovereign nation. This has escalated ongoing bilateral tensions among the people and governments of Nepal and India." Shrestha told his council has not received any response from the counterpart.
Some Indian print media have also helped in deepening the rift between the two countries. On July 6, the leading English daily Times of India ran an editorial accompanied by an illustration that showed the head of Oli pasted onto the body of a yak.
This is not the first time Nepal has blocked Indian news channels. The first recorded ban was imposed during Nepal's royal takeover in 2005. Nepal also had to ban Indian news channels in 2015 because of India's six-month economic blockade.
But some prominent Indian voices are put off by the media's antics. Ravish Kumar, Indian journalist and managing editor of NDTV India, told Nikkei that he has seen similar trends worldwide. "There is a lot of propaganda about foreign policy to set the agenda of domestic politics. This has now become the reality of the media of every country," he said.
"It is a pity that the Indian media gave such an opportunity that the matter has come this far. We must remember that the relationship between India and Nepal has been formed by people and not media."