The Big Story: Free press

Prime Minister Narendra Modi affirmed on Wednesday something that might be unexpected coming from him or a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party: The need for government to stay out of media matters. Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Press Council of India, Modi spoke of the danger of government interfering in the workings of news organisations.

“Mahatma Gandhi had said uncontrolled writing can create huge problems but he had also said that external interference would wreak havoc. Controlling it [media] externally cannot be imagined,” he said. “The government should not do any interference. It is true that self-introspection is not easy... It is the responsibility of the PCI and those associated with the press to see to it that what appropriate changes you can make with time. Things do not change from external control.”

Just days earlier, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry was being criticised for singling out NDTV India’s coverage of the Pathankot attacks and imposing a one-day ban on the channel for allegedly violating programme code provisions. That decision was later stayed after a general outcry and a discussion between the channel and the minister.

But that isn’t the only time the I&B minister has questioned the operations of news organisations. The Modi government has also mutely witnessed some truly problematic developments, such as the banning of a newspaper in Kashmir, the state’s hounding of journalists in Chhattisgarh and even attacks on journalists by goons yelling patriotic slogans inside a Delhi court complex.

Modi’s statements on Wednesday, including his condemnation of murdered journalists, are important signals that the government at least feels the need to say that it supports a free press. This is significant because the state has also helped build an atmosphere where any dissent or questioning, such as demanding evidence of the Army’s surgical strikes or reporting on the unhappiness caused by demonetisation, has been vilified as “anti-national”.

Simply saying that he stands against interference in the operations of news organisations is not enough. Modi needs to do much more to remind his colleagues and his fellow party leaders that a media which is free to ask questions and air dissent is more likely to make India safer and stronger than one that is cowed down and does not reflect the truth.


  1. Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, in the Indian Express, about the vast morality play that Modi is making with his demonetisation move, and how dangerous it is to personalise policy.
  2.   “We can conclude that if this government has burned its boats with the trader class, it is playing for a clean sweep,” writes Rohit Prasad in Mint
  3.   “We have to accept that a creeping anti-minorityism has now become full-blown among the middle class,” writes Rammanohar Reddy in the Hindu.  


Don’t miss

Suryakanth Waghmore explains how Maratha masculinity is the driving force behind the community’s demand to scrap the Atrocities Act.

Despite Marathas holding political control of the state’s administrative and development apparatus over several decades, the monetisation of the rural economy, consecutive droughts and growing urbanisation have rendered holes in this community’s social power.

Other dominant middle castes have similar anxieties over their eroding social power and masculinity. When Jat leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March last year with their demand for reservations, the prime minister possibly digressed when he emphasised the social. He asked Jat leaders to end the practice of female foeticide in exchange for caste quotas.

The social consequences of caste masculinity and the hubris of warrior-hood in rural India are several. While consolidating procedural democracy, caste masculinity fundamentally affects the possibility of citizenship and civility.