The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the “increasingly challenging environment for the press” in the country. The editors’ body issued the statement days after two journalists at ABP News Network quit the organisation.
On Saturday, journalist Punya Prasun Bajpai said his former employer, ABP News, had asked him to avoid making references to Prime Minister Narendra Modi while criticising government policies. ABP News Managing Editor Milind Khandekar had resigned before Bajpai. The Foundation for Media Professionals on Tuesday urged the government to respond to Bajpai’s allegations of government interference.
“The Editors Guild of India condemns the manner in which the right to practise free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces,” the statement said. “The past few days have seen senior journalists of at least two electronic media channels come out in the open to assert that their employers attempted to either tailor or tone down their content to make it less critical of the government, leaving them no choice other than resigning.”
While media owners seem unable to resist covert or overt pressures from politicians, television content critical of the government is being frequently blocked or interrupted in an Orwellian manner, the guild said. “One TV channel has also shared with the guild screenshots and details indicating such interference,” the body said. “Such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and indeed the foundations of our democracy.”
The guild urged the Centre to investigate and explain how such interference is taking place. “It must also assure the nation that either directly or through any proxies or agencies it isn’t involved in this activity,” it added, calling for action against those who attempt to block channels.
The editors’ body also asked the government and other political parties to stop blocking journalists critical of the government from attending press conferences. “Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy,” it said. “Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided.”
In a reference to the Rafale jet deal, the guild criticised the “cease and desist” notice “a large corporate group” had issued to some newspapers. “The company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn’t, it should be resisted.”
On Shahidul Alam’s detention
The guild said it was “pained and agitated” to learn about the detention of Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam. “The guild understands that Alam’s detention is arbitrary and unreasonable,” it added. “The guild stands behind Alam and demands his immediate and unconditional release from detention.”