The Narendra Modi-led government has stopped providing advertisements to three major newspaper groups, Reuters reported on Friday. The three are the Times Group, the ABP Group, which publishes The Telegraph, and The Hindu newspaper.
“There is a freeze,” an executive at Bennett, Coleman & Co, which controls the Times Group, told Reuters on the condition of anonymity. “Could be [because of] some reports they were unhappy with.” Around 15% of the Times Group’s advertising comes from the government, the executive said.
Two ABP Group officials said the organisation has seen a 15% drop in government ads for six months. “Once you don’t toe the government line in your editorial coverage and you write anything against the government, then obviously the only way they can penalise you to choke your advertising supply,” one of the executives said.
The other executive said the Centre did not give any intimation of its decision to suspend advertising. “Press freedom must be maintained and it will be maintained despite these things,” the official said.
The Hindu newspaper has also seen a fall in advertisements from the government in recent months, after it published a report in February alleging wrongdoing in the Rafale aircraft deal between India and France.
The Congress criticised the freeze on government advertisements. “The undemocratic and megalomaniac style of stopping government advertisement is a message to media from this government to toe its line,” Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party rejected the charges. BJP Spokesperson Nalin Kohli said there was a lot of criticism of the government in newspapers and on television channels. “That’s testimony of freedom of speech,” he said. “The suggestion that the BJP is throttling free press is ridiculous.”