Indian media (then the newspaper and press) has played a crucial role in guarding our country’s democracy since its independence from Britain in 1947. After 76 years of Independence, journalists feel under threat. The only journalists who could make a safe haven for themselves are either the BJP mouthpieces or staunch followers of Modi. Independent minds are under attack because they question the government. They talk about policy failures and the falsehood of the Prime Minister and his leaders. In a diverged environment, journalists are more divided than ever before.
Much of the mainstream media pass a message that holding the government answerable is not part of the press’s responsibility. Rather questioning the government is condemned by these media houses. For them the PM is God and his party is a set of holy disciples. Their narrative of BJP is sadly very selective. You might have witnessed how some lap anchors sitting in their dramatic prime time debates troll honest media entities just because they are different from them.
Since Modi came to power in 2014, his government succeeded in controlling the news media, especially the broadcasting frequencies, like no other prime minister in decades. Modi has cleverly cultivated the media to build a cult of personality that portrays him as the nation’s altruistic protector. None of these journalists feels ashamed of carrying BJP’s agenda as their prime time topic. None of these anchors feels responsible for the people while misleading them. Sadly, they take it as an honour to do so. Sometimes they all gang up and speak the same language and effectively create a perception that suits their political master and party.
People like Ravish Kumar and others like him suffer, their telecasts are interrupted. Advertising restricted, tax investigations ordered— to ignore the uglier side of BJP’s campaign to transform India from a tolerant, religiously diverse country into an assertively Hindu one. They are openly bullied and ignored just because they refuse to speak their language. They were trolled to death on social media because they use their brains to speak the truth.
More than a hundred journalists were arrested and nearly 200 physically attacked in 2020. If you read various reports of atrocities on journalists, your brains will numb. Many believe India has become unsafe for journalists. Especially, when a female journalist critical of the government – faces fierce online trolling and threats. Many female journalists are stalked and openly threatened with rape and murder, viciously trolled” and an attempt made to break into their building. Freelance journalist Rohini Singh is a recent example.
We live in polarized times where critics of the government are branded as anti-nationals. It is the job of journalists to ask questions to people in power. But sadly, eighty per cent of the media believes in bootlicking as the prime focus of media houses. There is an atmosphere of unceasing jeopardy. The most brutal example is ‘Bulli Bai’ App, how Muslim journalists are systematically attacked and auctioned. To be sure, these threats are not limited to the Hindutva ecosystem around the BJP. Ruling parties in some states have exhibited similar tendencies, but none of these parallels the organized scale of the online harassment of journalists by the Hindutva ecosphere.
Female journalists are prime targets of these bigots because the ruling party is inherently misogynistic. They can’t stand the success of women who are assertive, successful, and have an opinion. Ironically, the intellectual (mortgaged) female supporters of BJP and their female leaders maintain utmost silence when it comes to the security of these female journalists. They don’t see them as fellow women but enemies of Modi/BJP and sometimes Hindutva. Sorry for the unkind, depressing lives they lead. What they believe is their freedom of speech to slander, to abuse, to spread hate speech.
In the protruding social media era, Hindutva, and Narendra Modi – who follows a number of abusive Twitter users and has felicitated some – has been eroding public interaction. Journalists may no longer be the main arbitrators of this discourse, but they remain important enablers. The smartphone has allowed about a billion active mobile subscribers to participate in India’s daily conversations. But instead of expressing diverse opinions, these voices coalesce around a handful of ideological spools, none currently more influential than those operated by the ruling establishment.
With two decades of experience in media, this is the first time I am seeing Journalists in India face attacks, legal action, threats and sometimes auctioned. The rising attacks against India’s independent journalists and media over the last seven years are a matter of grave concern but their lives hardly matter to the government because they refuse to dance to their tune.
Newslaundry like YouTube channels found them receiving tersely worded show-cause notices, their broadcasts were blocked. They were openly thrown with many adjectives, later years witnessed a gradual choking of independent voices in the media through criminal cases, pressure to self-censor and drop opinion pieces by columnists that the government found uncomfortable. Top editors were fired over disagreements on censorship by owners. The more I write, the more the agony, parallel media houses like us become Ping-Pong balls, our neutrality grossly misunderstood, and our government advertisements are stopped completely. Many newspapers faded in the race; some just resorted to bogging, apathy and appalling situations.