The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday expressed its shock on the report prepared by a group of ministers, or GoM, to “neutralise” those who are writing against the Narendra Modi government and “setting false narratives”.
The details of the report by five Cabinet ministers and four ministers of state was first reported by the Hindustan Times on December 8, 2020. After this, The Caravan accessed the 97-page document on March 4, reporting about the suggestions made to fine-tune “government communication”.
Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and MoS for the Environment Ministry Babul Supriyo were part of the GoM meeting.
The Editors Guild in a statement said the group was constituted by the government in mid-2020 “without any provocation” and at a time when “various press freedom and democracy indices show a rapid slide”. The report, the Guild said, “further illustrates the government’s increasingly draconian attitude against any critique and inquiry by the press”.
The statement said the suggestions made by the ministers in the GoM report “hint at increased surveillance and targeting of writers and journalists who depart from the government’s narrative”. The association demanded the government make it clear that it is committed to the plurality of views in the media as the report is “major concern” for the guild.
The Editors Guild said the government is supposed to safeguard constitutional values of freedom of expression.
It also referred to Naqvi calling for action against those writing against the government and spreading fake news. “In the absence of any clarity on what will constitute fake news and the process to be followed, such observations smack of an intention to simply muzzle any criticism of the government,” the statement read.
The GoM report claimed that Nitin Gokhale, a former security editor at NDTV, suggested that “Journalists can be colour coded: Green – fence sitters; Black – against; and White – who support”.
Other suggestions included enlarging the Prasar Bharati News Service into a “main line news agency”. Meanwhile, Thakur said right-wing parties from other countries “need to be roped in so that some common ground could be found”.