The government on Saturday revoked a 48-hour ban on two leading Malayalam news channels hours after imposing the punitive measure on separate charges of being critical of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Delhi Police and siding with one community while covering last month's violence in the national capital.
It was not immediately clear whether widespread criticism of the ban on Asianet News and Media One channels prompted the government to withdraw the restrictions.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters in Pune that Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over the entire issue, adding the government supports press freedom.
Without going into specifics, Javadekar said he would look into the matter and take "essential steps" if any wrongdoing is found.
"I will definitely go into the details and take essential steps if there is any wrongdoing. But let me also tell you that everybody should accept that there has to be responsible freedom," he said.
The channels were suspended for 48 hours beginning 7:30 PM on Friday over their coverage of the communal violence in Delhi.
The official orders said that the channels covered events of February 25 in a manner that "highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community".
The ban on Asianet News was lifted at 1.30 am, while the ban on Media One was lifted at 9.30 am on Saturday, a source in the ministry of information and broadcasting said.
In its order against Media On, the ministry said the channel questioned the RSS and accused the Delhi Police of inaction.
The Congress and Left parties came down hard on the government for the punitive action, calling the clampdown "stifling of media freedom".
In Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the ban a "dangerous trend" and added it was an indication of the coming dangers.
"The Centre has made an infringement into the freedom of the press, crossing all limits. There is a threat that if anybody criticises the RSS and the Sangh Parivar, they will be taught a lesson," he said in a statement.
Asianet News editor M G Radhakrishnan said management of the channel contacted the information and broadcasting ministry after the ban was imposed and spoken with relevant people explaining its position on the matter.
Media One editor-in-chief C L Thomas said his channel had not reached out to the government and the ministry "suo motu" revoked the ban.
"We were proceeding for legal action. Today we got the information that the ban has been revoked, so we did not go ahead with the legal proceedings. We did not contact anyone in the ministry, the government suo motu lifted the ban," Thomas said.
The ministry's suspension order for Media One had said, "Channel's reporting on Delhi violence seems to be biased as it is deliberately focusing on the vandalism of CAA supporters. It also questions the RSS and alleges Delhi Police inaction. Channel seems to be critical towards the Delhi Police and the RSS."
"We are happy that the ministry has suo motu lifted the ban. We will continue on the same path we have been following and upholding the classical values of journalism," Thomas said.
Radhakrishnan said the channel's management spoke with the I&B ministry in an effort to "convince them".
"They (management) seemed to have succeeded in their attempt. Since it was night there was no time for making any formal application. They spoke with all the people concerned in the ministry and convinced them. That is what the minister has also come out saying today," he said.
"There was no apology made from our side. The reporting was all factual," Radhakrishnan said.
Asianet News is indirectly owned by Bharatiya Janata Party Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
There was no official word or comment from the ministry on what transpired between the time the ban was imposed till it was lifted and officials said they had nothing to add to what the minister said.
Javadekar said, "Two Kerala channels were banned for 48 hours. We immediately found out what exactly happened and therefore we immediately restored the channels."
He asserted that the government was committed to the freedom of press.
"Our basic thought process is that the freedom of press is absolutely essential in the democratic set up and that is the commitment of Modi government," he said.
Referring to the Emergency, Javadekar said the freedom of press was suppressed in those days. "We went to jails against that and we secured the freedom of press," he added.
The minister said that views of the News Broadcasters Association have been sought after he spoke with its president Rajat Sharma.
"We have sought their inputs so we will take correct actions. I am very much sure that the media will also exercise responsible freedom," he added.
Reacting to the revocation of the ban, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said, "Glad wisdom has dawned on the government in the face of the widespread outcry against this outrageous decision.
"Trust the bureaucrats responsible for this undemocratic behaviour will be pulled up and taught the limits of their arbitrary authority. Our freedoms must be fought for every day," he tweeted.
The two channels were issued show cause notice on February 28 and after they filed their replies, the ministry of information and broadcasting found them to be unsatisfactory and the reportage violative of the programme code prescribed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
In response to its show cause notice, the Media One channel management maintained that the allegations made were "arbitrary and unreasonable".
On Asianet News' reportage, the order said that while reporting such a critical incident, the channel should have taken utmost care and should have reported it in a balanced way.
The channel, in its response to the show cause notice, had said that the reports published by them were factual and never intended to attack religions or communities by words or gesture.
Meanwhile, Press Club, Kerala Union of Working Jouranlists and Kerala Newspaper Employees Federation took out a march to the General Post Office in Thiruvananthapuram against the Centre's action on the two channels.
Media personnel holding placards and raising slogans participated in the march against the centre's decision.
Similar protests were held in various parts of Kerala.
In the national capital, journalists under the banner of Kerala Union of Working Journalists demonstrated at Jantar Mantar in the afternoon.
Though the ban was lifted by the government, the journalists came together to "defend press freedom".