The Big Story: Modi-fied media
In July, Hindi news channel ABP News ran a report claiming that a woman in Chhatisgarh had been coached to make false statements about the growth of her income during a video interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The reporters did what reporters around the world see as their job: to hold power to account. Instead, they found themselves under fire. Within a month of the programme being aired, the host of the show Punya Prasun Bajpai as well as the channel’s Managing Editor Milind Khandekar had resigned.
On Monday, Bajpai wrote an article detailing the pressures that had allegedly been put on him by the Union government as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party apparatus. ABP was boycotted by BJP spokespersons and BJP leaders stopped speaking to reporters from the channel, Bajpai said. A corporation seen to be close to the government pulled out its advertisements from ABP News. The satellite signal for ABP News saw a mysterious disruption during the time Bajpai was on air. India’s news channels are being monitored by hundreds of bureaucrats, Bajpai said, and those that seem to be critical of the government are being spoken to. Bajpai claims he was asked by the proprietor of ABP News not to name Modi or even show visuals of the prime minister while criticising the Union government.
As soon as Bajpai resigned, however, the advertiser was back and the signal started to work flawlessly.
India has never been an easy place for journalists. Amongst 180 countries ranked on the Reporters Sans Frontières’ Press Freedom Index, India ranked an abysmal 138th in 2018 – down from 136 last year. These conditions are most acute for journalists reporting from small towns and rural India who do not work in Engish.
These conditions have been been exacerbated by the current dispensation’s open distaste for the press. A week before Bajpai was made to resign, BJP president Amit Shah is alleged to have told a group of journalists in Parliament that he would “teach ABP News a lesson”. As Reporters Sans Frontières noted in April: “Any investigative reporting that annoys the ruling party or any criticism of Hindutva, an ideology that blends Hindu nationalism with an almost fascistic rhetoric, elicits a torrent of online insults and calls for the death of the reporter or writer responsible, most of it coming from the prime minister’s troll army” on social media.
Already, the chilling effect seems to have set in. Large sections of the media have simply ignored the events at ABP News. The Editor’s Guild of India has also been curiously silent, leading to Bajpai wondering if the people heading it “are not journalists but sarkari babus”. During the Emergency of 1975, the Indian media was embarrassingly pliant in front of the government, infamously crawling when only asked to bend. It seems, since then, matters have got worse with media houses now afraid to even criticise the prime minister.
The Big Scroll
- This isn’t the Emergency – so why are many media houses falling in line, asks Kalpana Sharma.
- Sruthisagar Yamunan reports on how a “rogue carrier” could have disrupted ABP News signals during the “Masterstroke” show.
- For lakhs of immigrants, Muslim and Hindu, the National Register of Citizens puts the final seal on citizenship. For others, it’s a long road to closure, writes Udayon Misra in the Indian Express.
- In the Hindu, Shankar Narayan lays out a response to criticism of the Srikrishna Committee report on data privacy and protection.
- The daily lives of Indian women are watched, chaperoned, hidden, and constantly manipulated and curtailed just for safety, writes Shruti Rajagopalan in Mint.
In Assam’s Barak Valley, many Bengali Hindus have been left out of the NRC but have no choice but to back the BJP, reports Arunabh Saikia.
“But BJP president Amit Shah’s comments in Parliament, where he appeared to refer to the 40 lakh people left out of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens as ‘ghuspethiye’ or infiltrators, has not gone down well in the Barak Valley. ‘If we are illegal migrants, they should resign from the government,’ said Sanjib Debnath, a retired government official whose name has not featured on the draft list. ‘Because it is with our vote that they won the elections.’
Opposition leaders have also latched on to Shah’s statement. ‘The BJP seems to have sacrificed Barak Valley for Brahmaputra Valley, because it has more seats,’ said S Samimul Islam, the All India United Democratic Front’s Cachar unit president. ‘They will pay for it.’ He was echoing a widespread perception in the Barak Valley that the counting exercise was an Assamese nationalist project. The Brahmaputra Valley has traditionally been the seat of such nationalist mobilisations.”