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What’s happened to Press Freedom in India?

Karnataka expressed outrage at the dastardly killing of Gauri Lankesh ji on 05 September 2017. 3 years on there is no justice done, and may not happen in the near future.

India needs unbiased reporting, open conversations, and a trustworthy media now more than ever. Yet journalists are under threat for speaking truth to power.

We live in a world often described as “post-truth”, where “fake news” has become more widespread than fact-based reporting. We need good journalism more than ever. Yet being a journalist in India is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone who refuses to simply echo government rhetoric while steering well clear of the central problems the country faces.

In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, India ranked 142 out of 180 – behind neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Nepal. The reason why is simple. According to the report, “ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased.” Speaking truth to power – the mission of every true journalist – has become a dangerous occupation in Modi’s India.

A Political Tactic?

It’s a government tactic that has paid off. Narenda Modi won a landslide victory in the 2019 elections largely based on his cult of personality, with the media overwhelmingly portraying him as the strong leader who could save the nation.

In March this year, for example, the Media One channel was cut off for 48 hours on an order from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Their usual programmes were replaced by a blank screen with a message telling viewers that there was no signal. The reason? The channel’s coverage of the February anti-Muslim riots in New Delhi had been “critical toward Delhi police and RSS”, according to the order.

The Pandemic Crisis

The crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation even worse, and journalists across the country have faced arrest and intimidation for reporting on the government’s handling of the situation. The editor of Gujarat’s Face of Nation was charged with sedition after writing about the state’s rapid rise in infection rates and the subsequent intervention in state government by the BJP. In April six journalists were arrested in the state of Himachal Pradesh for their coverage of the impact of the lockdown. At the other end of the country, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the editor of a local newspaper was arrested over a single tweet questioning the decision to quarantine a family – even though the facts he reported were found to be true.

If Narendra Modi truly wants to end corruption, the first step towards transparency is to ensure the freedom of the press. He has done the opposite and cracked down on anyone who expresses an opinion critical of government, whether on social media, online news sites, on television, or in print. Journalists should not have to risk their personal safety and freedom to keep us informed. We need to speak up for them – or there will be nobody left to speak for us.

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