The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has censured the ruling BJP government headed by PM Narendra Modi for its repeated attacks on press freedom in India.
In a statement released today, EGI said that the right to practice free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces.
This, according to EGI, is because of media owners’ inability to withstand political covert or overt pressures from the political establishment. There are frequent instances of blocking or interference in the transmission of television content that is seen to be critical of the government.
In a related issue, the Guild decried the “cease and desist” notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers in an effort to block the coverage of an important Defence deal. EGI suggested that the company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn’t, it should be resisted. If needed, EGI said, the courts should weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions.
According to the statement, Modi has caused a loss of over Rs. 35,000 crore (about US$ 5 billion) to public funds to benefit his businessman friend Anil Ambani. “Modi has committed criminal misconduct under Prevention of Corruption Act,” Bhushan tweeted.
The EGI added that 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. At least one such instance has been reported formally in writing to the Guild. These instances are disconcerting, EGI said.
Read the statement with documents issued by Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha & myself today on the Rafale deal which show that Modi caused a loss of >35KCr to public funds to benefit Ambani & thus commit Criminal misconduct under Prevention of Corruption Act https://t.co/qpU1W12aP3
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 8, 2018
The Guild decried all attempts on the part of the government to interfere in the free and independent functioning of journalists, either put under pressure directly, or through the proprietors.
“Even more worrying are the recent instances where signals of television programmes critical of the government have seemingly been blocked or disrupted in a manner almost Orwellian,” EGI said in its statement.
One TV channel has also shared with the Guild screen-shots and details indicating such interference. Such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and indeed the foundations of our democracy.
These undermine the right to be informed and to hold the establishment accountable. This seems a brazen attempt to punish “unfriendly” news channels and silence inconvenient voices, it was stated.
The Guild also decried the tendency on the part of the government, and the political class in general, to use selective denial of journalistic access as a weapon.
This has become worse when there are few opportunities to ask questions to those in public life or in official positions on public platforms like press conferences, which is a legitimate democratic right of journalists on behalf of all citizens.
“Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided,” the Guild stated categorically.