The relentless attack on the Indian news media seems to have become a pattern these days since the Narendra Modi-led central government has come to power. Be it bringing regulations to control the freedom of journalists in the name of controlling the spread of fake news, hate speech targeting journalists, murders of journalists to the recent Income Tax raid in the Quint Publication, the government is in search of every possible way to choke the media houses that are indifferent to their threats to not publish anything that goes against the Prime Minister or the government.
Income Tax officers on Thursday, October 11, reached the office of Quintillion Media Pvt Ltd in Noida, owned by Raghav Bahl, that runs the parallel news website The Quint. As informed by one of the journalists working with The Quint, while initially, the Taxmen informed the administration of conducting a ‘survey’ on two respective floors, they later clarified that they were conducting a ‘search’ on one of the floors. The raid that was claimed to be in connection with ‘tax evasion’, was also held at the residence of The Quint’s Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl and CEO Ritu Kapur, and the office of Quintype (another company owned by the same corporate group), and a survey was conducted at The News Minute (which Quintillion Media holds a stake) in Bengaluru.
In a statement to the Editor’s Guild, Bahl said, “I have a matter of great concern to share with the Guild. While I was in Mumbai this morning, dozens of IT officials descended on my residence and The Quint’s office for a ‘survey’.” He further stressed, “We are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents.”
When asked about the raids and whether government’s intention is to overpower the media, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “We believe in freedom of the press and democratic values. If any media house is involved in corruption, they have to answer.” Though his answer might give the readers a perception of a dependable government with a motto of corruption-free India, in reality, it’s tyrannical.
Political journalist Nilesh Khare expressed his anguish stating, “Any political party that comes to power has similar agendas to suppress the voice and views of the other side. In recent years, we have seen media being targeted by the ruling government. Congress did the same thing earlier, and now BJP is doing it.”
According to the World Press Freedom Index released this year, India ranked itself down to 138th position in the world out of 180 countries measured. Sad to relate that when the index started in 2002, India was ranked 80th out of 139 countries surveyed while the nation’s position in 2018 is two ranks down since 2017.
On the condition of anonymity, a journalist working with a mainstream broadcast media said, “Being a part of one such editorial desk, I know how story angles unfold as per convenience and raids on news media offices have proved that the government has stooped to a new low.”
“Whenever there are allegations against the top leaders of the government or some affluent businessmen, the officials respond saying that ‘law will take its own course’. But when it comes to the news media and moreover, when that media dares to say the truth against the government, their swift action looks like an irony,” she told AV.
While a news website Cobrapost in March this year had carried a story titled “Operation 136: Part I” on 17 media houses and alleged malpractices, including paid news, peddling of communal agenda and acceptance of black currency, the whole nation was terrified while the same government showed no fire to take an immediate action unlike the raid that occurred on Thursday in a prompt mode. The Cobrapost documentary, that created enough hue and cry around the naked reality of today’s mainstream media, alleged senior news media officials talking to an undercover reporter about a proposal to promote “Hindutva” politics and creating defamatory content criticising leaders of Opposition parties including the Congress, BSP, SP and the JD(S) for money.
Isn’t this the paradoxical nature of the ruling party? The most unfortunate is that this government dares to implement all these strategies openly and a thin line of analysation makes the reason quite evident.
The Editor’s Guild too expressed its distress over the Income Tax raid. “While the tax administration is within its rights to make inquiries in compliance with the relevant laws, it should not exercise those powers in a way that could be seen as an intimidation of the government’s critics,” it Tweeted on Thursday.
Attacking the incumbent central government, the Guild warned that it “believes that motivated income tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts.”
Congress President Rahul Gandhi at a press conference in Delhi said, “They will raid, harass, attack and suppress. That’s their agenda. The government is trying to suppress the media.”
General elections are just a year away. Failures of the given promises, increasing opposition to Modi’s economic policies and BJP’s muscular Hindu nationalism are a big pain for the BJP government. While they have almost no time left to cover up their backlog, it seems that the government feels choking the freedom of the press is the only mechanism to return to power. “I.T raids on @TheQuint offices and its founder @Raghav_Bahl home are cause for serious concern. If there is justification, govt must explain quickly. Or it will be seen as targeting critical media,” senior journalist Shekhar Gupta launched an attack.
Independent journalist Kanchan Srivastava expressed, “Presently, there are various print media and web portals that are critical of the government policies; hence, they are being threatened. Criticising the government and establishment can be one of the reasons that The Quint has been targeted with an IT raid.”
She went on saying, “Although I am not aware of the actual reason or purpose of the raid, I feel that the web media is sure to be the next target of the government. According to me, they will majorly take actions against the big media houses, because they create a larger impact.”
AV tried contacting the BJP leaders from the state; while many dodged our questions, others preferred to not comment anything on the story.