The Big Story: Fighting within

When Donald Trump became US president in January, many wondered what this would mean for the American media. Trump had spent months describing the work of leading US organisations as “fake news” and insisted that the public should ignore them entirely. Some feared that Trump’s victory would undermine trust in media institutions and put pressure on journalists to be less critical of the president.

In the event, the opposite seems to have happened. Many news organisations and journalists have responded to Trump’s hostility by being even more dogged in their coverage of his decisions. They have published a series of scoops about the increasingly hostile White House. Readers have rewarded their persistence by giving newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post a “Trump Bump” in subscription figures.

The same, sadly, does not hold true for India. It has been some time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the media as “news traders”, but his support base is still happy to deploy the word “presstitute” (or worse) for anyone who reports critically on the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party government. In Rajasthan, the ruling BJP has promulgated an ordinance that prohibits coverage of any allegations against public servants until the government itself sanctions an official investigation into the charges. In Gujarat, the decision of Jay Shah, son of BJP President Amit Shah, to file a criminal defamation case against The Wire, was amplified by BJP officials. In Karnataka, a BJP member of legislative assembly rationalised the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. The conduct of the government and party leadership through many of these incidents has added to the impression that there is an implicit endorsement of those who go after mediapersons, in whatever form.

Instead of standing resolute in the face of these pressures, the Indian media seems to be giving in. In the last few weeks, the Hindustan Times has taken down from its website its Hate Tracker series that had received heated criticism from BJP supporters, while NDTV has removed a story on Jay Shah. Neither organisation has offered an adequate explanation for these decisions. In the past, the Times of India has also taken down pieces critical of government policies from its website. Ironically, some TV channels and new websites, rather than attempting to hold the government to account, are going to some length to attack journalists who are seen to be critical of the administration.

As the BJP’s actions trigger a chilling effect, it is crucial for Indian journalists to ensure that they do not shirk their responsibility to their readers and viewers and keep reporting stories that serve the public interest. They must guard against attempts at self-censorship and speak up about the dangers to the free press. These setbacks should serve as a reminder that journalists need to be even firmer when holding the powerful to account.

Regardless of his own attitude towards press freedom when in power, it is time to remember what the BJP’s LK Advani had said about the media’s behaviour during the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi: “You were asked to bend but you began to crawl.”

The Big Scroll

  • 45 years of Watergate: Why the journalism of the Washington Post-NYT holds lessons for today’s media.   


  1. In the Indian Express, Vikram Patel says oppressive social norms are behind rising suicides among the youth. 
  2.   Social welfare beneficiaries should have the option to choose a payment mode convenient to them, writes Nikhil Shenoy in The Hindu. 
  3. In the Mint, Montek Singh Ahluwalia cautions that India should not be distracted by calls for protectionism gaining strength in the West and should continue to pursue an open trade policy. 


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