New Delhi

Murky Waters

India is becoming one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.

By Shahrukh Mehboob | July 2020

The protests in India against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which grants a fast track to citizenship for certain religious-minority immigrants, have underlined the importance of not just the democratic process, which includes the right to peaceful protest, but also the role of the media in covering the government's response to the protesters.

The R.S.S. is a Hindu-nationalist social movement with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. India’s free press has played a crucial role in protecting the country’s democracy since independence from Britain in 1947. But journalists in India now feel they are under attack. Since Mr. Modi came to power in 2014, they say, his government has tried to control the country’s news media, especially the airwaves, like no other prime minister in decades. Modi has shrewdly cultivated the media to build a cult of personality that portrays him as the nation’s selfless saviour. At the same time, senior government officials have pressed news outlets by berating editors, cutting off advertising and ordering tax investigations so that maedia would ignore the uglier side of the BJP’s campaign to transform India from a tolerant, religiously diverse country into an assertively Hindu one.

With the coronavirus pandemic, Modi has become more blatant in his attempts to control coverage and, as with other difficult stories, some Indian news executives seem willing to go along. Right before he announced the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown on 1.3 billion people, Modi met with top news executives and urged them to publish “inspiring and positive stories” about the government’s efforts. Then, after the lockdown stranded half a million migrant workers, with some dying along the highways, his lawyers persuaded the Supreme Court to order all media to “publish the official version” of coronavirus developments, although outlets were still allowed to carry independent reporting.

An association of leading broadcasters was quick to praise the court decision, which many intellectuals said was yet another attack on India’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. Through an aide, India’s information and broadcasting minister, Prakash Javadekar, initially agreed to discuss the government’s media policies. But in the weeks since then, Mr. Javadekar declined to answer any questions, including a written list emailed to him. His aide cited the demands of the coronavirus crisis.

The latest assault on freedom of speech is the government's decision to charge Kashmiris who access the internet via VPNs under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The latest assault on freedom of speech is the government's decision to charge Kashmiris who access the internet via VPNs under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Read More

The writer is a legal practitioner and columnist. He tweets: @legal_bias and can also be reached at shahrukhmehboob4
@gmail.com

Cover Story
Tributes
Special Editorial Feature
News Buzz

Leave a Reply

Update