Press Freedom in India Faces a Rapid Downward Spiral, Says International Media Watchdog
NEW DELHI, APRIL 25— A global media watchdog, in its latest report on Friday, charged that “Press freedom in India faces a rapid downward spiral as journalists are being targeted by the government in a bid to control the narrative in the country on the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“While India’s Supreme Court rightly declined to go along with a backhanded effort to control the narrative around COVID-19, officials at various levels of government have continued to target journalists, who have refused to bow to pressure”, said Scott Griffen, Deputy Director of International Press Institute (IPI), referring to March 31 petition of the government.
“Independent journalism is an essential partner in protecting public health. We urge the Indian authorities to ensure that all journalists are able to do their job of informing the public at this critical time,” he said.
The IPI report mentions several cases including the criminal case lodged by Uttar Pradesh police against senior journalist and Chief Editor of The Wire Siddharth Varadarajan.
“A day after the Supreme Court refused to allow the government to censor the media, police in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which is governed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, filed a criminal case on April 1 against Siddharth Varadarajan, chief editor of The Wire, a news website. The case was filed on the basis of a complaint filed by a lawyer alleging that an article published in The Wire intended to spread fake news against the chief minister of the state….”
Despite the Coronavirus-driven lockdown, a police team reached Delhi residence of the journalist to serve notice all through from Ayodhya, about 700 kms from the national capital. He was asked to appear before the court on April 14, which was to be the last day of the 21-day lockdown (which was later extended for till May 3).
The case sparked off protests by journalists, activists, writers, academics and many others. And consequently, the police called the journalist and asked him to respond to the notice through email.
“On April 16, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting served a notice to a private television channel, Public TV, in Bangalore for airing a programme in which it was claimed that the government was planning to drop money from helicopters to the poor during the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. The channel said that the programme was a serious discussion on the concept of helicopter money and did not mention that the government would actually drop money from helicopters.”
The IPI report also said that “press freedom in Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under serious threat...”
In the last one week, at least two journalists in Jammu and Kashmir were booked under an anti-terror law for allegedly making anti-national posts on social media.
IPI is a global network of journalists, editors and media executives defending media freedom since 1950.