A reporter was arrested under anti-terror UAPA, another for questioning a minister, in jail with no bail for a speech, survey on media houses, or block and ban.
India Govt. says that they don’t interfere with press freedom, only the foreign powers are jealous of us.
In a New York Times article – dated 8 March 2023 – our diminishing press freedom was discussed. Headline: Modi’s Final Assault on India’s Press Freedom Has Begun. In other words, press freedom is on the decline.
The headline angered Govt., said – all members of the press are free to ask or criticize, still these foreign powers and press are writing against us – why, what are they conspiring? There are even headlines on this foreign invasion in Indian media.
Information & Broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur said that New York Times was spreading lies about India and Kashmir. An article pointed out how journalists are pressurized by Govt. – put on no-fly list, summoned for questioning. The article also mentioned what if Kashmir model is introduced to the rest of the country – the journalists, anyway, are dancing to the tunes.
Rise of godi media and risks faced by independent media are both covered extensively, and Govt. denied those reports – some calling it mischievous, other – fake and another attack on country’s democracy or jealousy. Seeing how our rank has fallen in World Press Freedom Index, Union Minister Anurag Thakur said the Govt. does not subscribe to their report.
Is this the end of free press in India? Is it an International conspiracy against India? What are the relevant facts & data?
A govt. knows how to control newspaper, since Indira Gandhi – like, provide no ads, tax paper sheets, gherao (surround) printing press and raid. When Dainik Bhaskar wanted to find the real death toll because of the pandemic, they met the same fate. Also, there is no need to reiterate the situation of TV news – its debate is based primarily around Pakistan, Muslim, and US vs Them for years.
Besides, digital platforms and independent journalists are on ground – they cover issues faced by people and ask questions to politicians – sometimes facing action too. YouTuber and journalist Sanjay Rana was arrested by UP police – his crime was questioning the minister about development work.
Although, this is not the first case of its kind – journalists faced similar action in the past – this became commonplace.
The chronology is simple – question, slogan or poster will invite notice, FIR or jail. 20 journalists were arrested between April and September of 2022, as per international press institute data.
In the meantime, at least 18 journalists faced physical attacks and violence during this monitoring period, with cases involving both state and non-state actors.
There were multiple cases of journalists being violently beaten while in police custody. Speaking of police custody – one cannot help but remember the picture where journalist and seven others were stripped in Madhya Pradesh police station. Police explained that people were kept in custody in underwear to avoid any circumstance of suicide attempt.
If you don’t remember this incident, then it’s expected – we are prone to forgetting, and may soon forget the meaning of democracy. It’s evident that China style one-part democracy is underway in the country soon.
However, prior to killing democracy, journalism has to die – hence, 45 Indian journalists were killed from 2010 – 2022, according to UNESCO observatory. Global Impunity Index by Committee to Protect Journalists placed India at 11th position – meaning the one who killed journalist got away with it without arrest.
In other words, people are getting a licence to kill journalists in the country.
So much terror and violence on the journalists, but you won’t hear a news on it in the mainstream media – have you ever seen a debate show on the oppression on the journalists?
When global organizations like BBC were not spared, then who are we? From Modi documentary to Amritpal coverage – BBC is blocked – so will we ban BBC like China did? 55,000 websites, apps have been blocked in India since 2015 – mostly were illegal, piracy and pornographic sites. But, slowly, sites and accounts were being blocked under provisions of public law and order, and national security.
An authoritarian govt. seeks nothing but control. Newspaper and TV channel can be stopped by decreasing Ads or licensing, but digital media was soaring high. So, information technology intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code, 2021, was introduced. Basically, the aim was to regain control of digital media that was flying high.
New IT rules –
- Content can be taken down on grounds of National Security and Public Order
- No Court permission needed
Any news that PIB’s fact check unit calls fake, must be taken down – Govt. can now decide truth. Increasingly, the Govt. is deciding what is right. The offices of Oxfam, CPR, IPSMF were surveyed, and these organisations were accused of funding independent media, and relations with Opposition leaders. NDTV underwent many CBI raids before Adani – then, it was bought.
Similarly, media organisations like HW news and NewsClick were raided, surveyed by agencies. The Wire editors were raided by police. Income tax raid was conducted at BBC ‘s India office – the organization that released the documentary.
And, this was discussed world over as to what is happening to press freedom in India.
When a media organization is too keen on asking questions, they are put under pressure – why? Is it deliberate or a mere coincidence?
The mainstream media might not take this into consideration, so Govt. has to ask itself if it is right to stop questioning. Was it a coincidence when reporter Siddique Kappan was arrested straightaway when he wanted to cover the Hathras case?
ED involvement, terror changes and two-years jail later. What came out of it – the Supreme Court granted bail, and now, he is free. Similarly, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested for a tweet, posting an image hurting religious sentiments from a 1983 film. Interestingly, the complainant disappeared after the complaint. Meanwhile, the phone and laptop of Zubair were seized, every place was searched, court visits are still on.
After all these fiasco, our rank in World Press Freedom Index has slipped from 80 in 2002 to 150/180 in 2022. Is it worth asking, now, if freedom of speech is in danger? If you don’t question now, you will forget what questioning even is in no time.
But what about these dangers before 2014? Is only one Govt. responsible for decreasing press freedom in the country?
The answer is No.
The biggest attack on media was during emergency in 1975 when electricity was abruptly stopped, journalists put in jail in number, articles which questioned the system weren’t approved etc.
At that time too, anti-national newspapers kept asking questions – like The Indian Express and The Statesman. In their editorial pages, a blank editorial was kept to express protest against censorship.
Protesting for rights is allowed by the Constitution, and this is not only for journalists. According to Dr. Ambedkar, this is a fundamental right that can be exercised by a citizen. Press has the same rights as any citizen – so if press is under attack, then citizen rights are also being attacked.
Today, press is being silenced, tomorrow citizens may be silenced – do you understand the chronology? By the time you understand, who will speak for your issues? There will be no journalist, no press left.
What do you think of press freedom – is it in danger?
[Images from different sources]
Mahabahu.com is an Online Magazine with collection of premium Assamese and English articles and posts with cultural base and modern thinking. You can send your articles to email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org ( For Assamese article, Unicode font is necessary)