The Big Story: Modi-fied media

On Wednesday, speaking at a journalism award ceremony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded the audience about the dark days of India’s 1975 Emergency, when civil liberties were greatly restricted. “Every generation must keep reflecting on the Emergency period in an unbiased manner so that no future political leader can even wish to commit the same sin,” said Modi.

Like a good politician, Modi kept a rather wide gap between his words and actions. Even as the prime minister was decrying the Emergency, his own government was muzzling the press. On Thursday, the Union government banned NDTV’s Hindi channel from being aired for 24 hours on November 10. The government claims that the penalty was due to the fact that the channel had broadcast sensitive information during the militant attack on the Pathankot airbase in January. NDTV, however, claims that it was “singled out” and “every channel and newspaper had similar coverage”.

This arbitrary action by the Union government points to the restrictive powers the Telegraph Act of 1885 confers on the state over the media. In fact, India is a rare country in 2016 to still have a Soviet-style Information and Broadcast Ministry. The action against NDTV provides a reminder about how poor press freedom is in India: The 2016 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 133 among 180 countries. The report also made it a point to mention that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems indifferent to the threats against journalists.

In one particular egregious attempt to clamp down on a critic, the Union government in September 2015 served a notice to a Gujarati channel for simply asking if Modi was misusing Gandhi’s legacy. The government’s notice says, “The way it has criticised him in the news item seems a deliberate attempt to malign his reputation which is repugnant of the esteemed office he holds."

The fact that the Union government thinks “esteemed offices” can’t be criticised is alarming. Even more so is the fact that journalism is an extremely unsafe profession in India. In 2015, India saw nine of the 110 journalists killed around the world, putting it among the three most unsafe countries to be a newsperson.

While India is a democracy, not all Indians enjoy the same levels of liberty. India’s freedoms are distributed hierarchically. At the lowest layer, in places like Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, press freedom is especially fragile. Hence, the government could ban the Kashmir Reader and arrest Chhattisgarh journalist Prabhat Singh without much fuss. On the highest level of India’s press hierarchy sits the English media in Delhi. Within this structure, NDTV is a well-known brand, having pioneered television news broadcasting in India. That the Modi government could summarily ban even NDTV should ring loud alarm bells for India’s press freedom.

The Big Scroll

  1. 'We would rather not report': In Bastar, journalists decide to boycott stories on police and Maoists.
  2. Only Kashmir Reader was gagged, but all newspapers in the Valley must toe a tricky line

Political Picks

  1. Rahul Gandhi was detained again as the political storm intensified over retired soldier Ram Kishan Grewal who killed himself in protest against an unequal pension policy for military veterans.
  2. Pakistan “breaks rule” and makes public names of eight Indian diplomats accusing them of being spies.
  3. The Indo Tibetan Border Police and the Army have been engaged in a face- off with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army along the Line of Actual Control in Leh’s Demchok area since Wednesday.
  4. Rumbling grows within Uttar Pradesh Congress over Prashant Kishor, with factions arranged against him.


  1. If there is a grand alliance in UP, the Congress should pitch for it, says Uddalok Bhattacharya in the Hindustan Times.
  2. Creating an All India Judicial Service would make judiciary more accountable, professional and equitable, argues Ajit Prakash Shah in the Indian Express.
  3. India’s growing arms footprint in Afghanistan points to an important future aspect of its regional power projection, points out Shashank Joshi in the Hindu.


Don’t Miss

Rakesh Dixit explains why has Shivraj Singh Chouhan abandoned development for majority appeasement.

As long as LK Advani was the boss in the Bharatiya Janata Party, Chouhan, his blue-eyed boy in Madhya Pradesh, managed to humour the RSS with grants in academia, culture and public-funded voluntary organisations. But the chief minister kept the police and bureaucracy largely insulated from the RSS’s direct influence. At that time, the Sangh too did not exert undue pressure on Chouhan, given his close proximity with the BJP high command.

However, all that changed with the dawn of the Modi era in the party. The first sign of the tightening of the RSS grip on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government was visible in 2014 when RSS think tank member Vinay Sahasrabuddhe replaced Union minister Ananth Kumar as the BJP incharge of Madhya Pradesh.

Subscribe to "The Daily Fix" by either downloading Scroll's Android app or opting for it to be delivered to your mailbox.

Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to correct the number of journalists killed in India last year.