Under the Modi regime media freedom and free speech have been severely compromised through invoking certain draconian legislation like sedition and other censorship laws which have had an adverse impact on the independence and autonomy of the media. With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship and fake news has been steadily growing in the mainstream media and an increasing number of journalists are becoming the targets of online smear campaigns by the rabid ‘nationalists’, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals. While in 2017, three journalists, including the newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh were killed – the following year saw a sharp increase in the instances of violence and murder. By November 2018 there were six instances of murder and 13 attacks on journalists that was recorded nationally.
CHARGE 1: MODI GOVERNMENT HAS CONSTRICTED THE FREEDOM OF PRESS
- There have been approximately 50 instances of censorship and more than 20 instances of suspension of internet services and the take-down of online content in 2018 alone.
- During the tenure of the Modi government, India has slipped in the Press Freedom Index (PFI) rankings of Reporters Without Borders from 133 to 138.
- Internet is often disconnected in various parts of the country.
- Coverage of sensitive regions, such as Kashmir, has become increasingly difficult and several Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent.
- Contempt laws have been used against the press and against individuals for criticism levied against the judiciary for curtailing free speech.
- The colonial law on sedition is regularly used to curb free speech including on the internet and on social media and is frequently used against journalists posting on Facebook. For example, a sedition case was filed by the Chhattisgarh Government against Kamal Shukla, the editor of ‘Bhumkal Samachar’ for allegedly sharing a cartoon on social media that carried a derogatory reference to the judiciary and the government.
CHARGE 2: THE PUBLIC BROADCASTER’S AUTONOMY HAS BEEN DILUTED
- There has been an apparent dilution in autonomy of the public broadcaster under the NDA government. The public broadcaster is currently headed by a former journalist who has said on record that he was selected for his ideological affinity to the ruling party.
- The Modi Government has curbed the autonomy of independent corporations as envisioned in the Prasar Bharati Act and has been responsible for selecting senior staff for the corporation as well as determining their tenure. In 2018, there have been news reports of the chairperson of the Corporation resisting efforts of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to appoint an IAS officer as the Member, Personnel of the Prasar Bharati Board, and of his taking exception to a direction from the Ministry to terminate the services of all contractual employees of Prasar Bharati.
- Public service broadcasters like Doordashan have been used to live telecast the Vijay Dashami speech by the RSS and publicise such activities on the ground.
CHARGE 3: UNDER NDA, ARBITARY BANS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON TELEVISION
- The BJP government has been using an inter-ministerial panel without adequate non-government or judicial representation to decide and make the final ruling on bans.
- The Information and Broadcasting Ministry imposes arbitrary bans on TV channels for violations of the advertisement code and programme code of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. These bans are allegedly sponsored by the Modi government to govern and regulate content on television and are imposed despite the existence of a self-regulatory process adopted by the broadcasting industry.
- There have been arbitrary bans that have ordered channels to be shut from periods between one and thirty days. There were two bans in 2014, four in 2015 and two in 2016 and were imposed without having an ethically justified decision-making process in place.
CHARGE 4: UNDER NDA, DEFAMATION LAWS HAVE BEEN REPEATEDLY MISUSED
- Since criminal defamation was upheld by the SC in 2016, there has been an increasing use of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) to intimidate and silence media initiatives and journalists
- The Wire was slapped with a series of criminal defamation cases in 2017 from industrialist Gautam Adani and politically influential Jay Shah ( S/O Amit Shah) for stories written or reprinted by them. Similarly, a journalist accusing former minister MJ Akbar of sexual harassment was slapped with a criminal defamation suit in October 2018.
- Reliance Group companies have filed defamation suits against 15 national, international and regional media houses and journalists in Ahmedabad’s city civil court claiming that that articles published by them regarding the Rafale fighter aircraft deal were “libellous and derogatory”. Three Anil Ambani-owned companies also served a “cease and desist” notice to The Hindu against publishing “unverified and speculative” reports relating to the offset contract that was part of the Rafale deal.
CHARGE 5: PRIVATE FM AND COMMUNITY RADIO CANNOT AIR INDEPENDENT NEWS
- Private FM stations and community radio may only re-broadcast All India Radio news as private FM radio stations, including community radios, “may pose a possible security risk as there is no mechanism to monitor the contents of the news bulletins of every such station”.
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2017 further stated that “News and current affairs programmes on community radios are not allowed in the policy guideline to prevent the possibility of misuse of the platform by vested interests for furthering their designs/agenda” instead of addressing the growing problem of fake news.