Opposition members on Friday claimed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre was intimidating the media to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies were not criticised.
“There is right to speak, right to write,” Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said in the Lok Sabha during Zero Hour. “Article 19 gives the right to freedom of expression. But it is very regrettable that there have been several instances of ban on the media. Specially, when the media has gone against the government or has done a reality check, there is an attempt to intimidate them, muzzle them.”
He was referring to the resignations of two journalists from ABP News this week whose recent work had attracted criticism from the government.
“If there is no freedom of speech, where can we talk?” said Kharge. “We can only place this before you. If you want to close the channel, pressurise the press and those who want to write against your thinking, it is not a good thing. Those who are following such ideology, it is wrong. Those who are acting against the Constitution, it is wrong. The attempt that is being made to curb fundamental rights, this should not happen.”
Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore dismissed the accusations, and said that the government had not issued a show-cause notice to the TV channel though it had aired wrong news.
“The channel he [Kharge] is talking about ran a wrong story,” Rathore replied. “Despite that, the government did not issue a show-cause notice. If the government wanted to interfere, it would have because the Free Dish [state-run satellite TV service] is the government’s.”
Rathore said the government had nothing to do with the resignations. “This channel, their TRP [television rating points] is falling rapidly because people don’t want to see them anymore,” he said. “And they are blaming the government. We see a trend in the country that when the Opposition does not find an issue, they hold the government responsible for anything.”
ABP News Managing Editor Milind Khandekar resigned from the news channel on August 1 and prime-time anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai followed the next day. Another journalist at the network, Abhisar Sharma, has been told to go on leave. Their departures have prompted a flurry of questions about press freedom, the accountability of media owners and the government’s attitude to criticism.
ABP News has received flak since Bajpai’s primetime show Masterstroke on July 8 featured a segment about a woman who said in a video interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 20 that that her farm income had doubled. However, the ABP News report said that the woman had been tutored to say so. Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including Rathore, criticised the segment, claiming that it was false. In the wake of this, some viewers complained that they were facing difficulties accessing the channel when Masterstroke was on air.