was not at all surprised or shocked to read the raid on “The Quint” an Indian news website founded by Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur. It is a web-based news site with the main news consumers being social media users. The website came under heavy criticism in January 2018 for its reporting in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. Although it has retracted from that report and corrected itself, later on, it led to the mass blocking of its Twitter account by Indians as a protest and uninstalling of its Google app. Raghav Bahl is a businessman, a serial entrepreneur, and investor best known for his ownership of several television channels, including TV18 India. He was the Founding/Controlling Shareholder and Managing Director of Network18 Group until the takeover by Reliance Industries Ltd. He has several successful departs to his credit. The Income Tax Department conducted searches in the residences and offices of four businessmen, including that of Raghav Bahl for alleged tax evasion on the proceeds of the sale of shares in a company.
He was in Mumbai when dozens of IT officials descended on his residence and The Quint’s office for a survey. The social media users criticised this raid; they feel its attack on those who talk openly against establishments. Quint is one of the prominent voices as Modi critics. Meanwhile, some prominent media companies have shifted towards an aggressively hyper-nationalist stance and an inflammatory style of broadcasting in recent years. They have become the mouthpiece of Modi and BJP.
The media is divided into three types, one against Modi and BJP, one with Modi and BJP only, and the third rare section that is neutral and in the hit list of everyone because they criticise everyone and appreciate all, they do not follow any ideology or leader. Well! Such media houses are either small or not much famous. In the recent past, activists, journalists, lawyers and academics are troubled because free speech in India is deteriorating. Journalists face severe challenges, including physical violence and threat to life, while carrying out their work. According to an independent media report, there were 54 attacks on journalists (and seven murders) between January 2016 and April 2017, the majority being perpetrated by lawmakers and law-enforcers. Four journalists were killed in 2015, and there were 142 attacks in 2014-15. Rohini Singh, who did investigations into the Jay Shah (Amit Shah’s son) story, recounted the threats she faced while and after doing the story. According to her, this was not the case when she did similar stories on the previous Congress-led regime. So, the emerging “manufacture of consent” in favour of the ruling government does not happen only through active participation, or self-censorship on criticism by the media, but also as a result of the egregious threats that the media personnel face.
The BJP-led state governments have also introduced draconian bills to curb free speech. You cannot make fun of Modi or any BJP Leader, you would be hooted out to death by the social media brigade. India’s democracy is at a critical juncture. After the Emergency declared by the Congress government in 1975, which legally curbed press freedom, we have not witnessed such levels of avoidance of free speech. Otherwise, the Indian judiciary too has maintained a deafening silence on the judge’s death. It would not be wrong to concede India’s drop in the 2017 index comes amid a worsening climate for press freedom internationally. The pressure appears to be more intense now than they have been previously.
India has had a vibrant media, with more than 407 million newspaper readers, more than the population of the United States — and millions of more cable viewers voraciously consuming news in Hindi, English, and dozens of regional languages. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by India’s constitution, and court cases over the years have supported press freedom. Those rights were extremely shaken during the period known as the “Emergency” in the 1970s when battered Prime Minister Indira Gandhi locked up opposition leaders and censored newspapers to retain her power.
Zee News, a popular Hindi and English language TV channel which has faced criticism for both its slant and standards, including for allegedly falsely captioning footage from the JNU protests that led to the arrests of student leaders, recently refused to cover an India-Pakistan cricket match. The media house’s owner, Subhash Chandra, who in 2016 won a seat in India’s Upper House with BJP support, announced the boycott.
India’s media landscape is complex and fragmented and this might offer cause for modest assurance. While English-language media have disproportionate influence in an elite political discussion, their audiences account for a tiny fraction of India’s whole. Much of the country watch a channel in its own language, and what those do, depends on the politics of that region; they’re not reflecting BJP bias. Times are tough for journalists in India, where many reporters and editors say it is becoming increasingly difficult to do their jobs. Loyalists to the country’s powerful Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have bullied editors into taking down critical stories, hushed government bureaucrats, and shifted from the common practice of filing defamation cases to lodging more-serious criminal complaints, which can mean jail time and take years in India’s overburdened court system.
India is a democratic country and anyone can criticise the government policies if he or she doesn’t like them. Today, in India, people are blindly following one man – Narendra Modi. Whatever he says is the universal truth for them, whatever he does is right for them and if someone criticises him or the government, they brand him anti-nationalist and anti-Modi. We should use our rational mind before following someone; if the government does something wrong it’s our job to highlight that mistake. India has already seen enough personality cult in the central and state politics since independence. We should keep in mind that ideas evolve when we discuss them, criticising that idea is also a way to make it better by finding its problems and rectifying them.
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