Indian Media under Pressure


With the NDA Govt led by the BJP having come to power in India in May, one can already see some changes not only in Indian polity, social fabric but also in Indian media. That BJP, a right wing party has its own peculiar agenda with regard to how it sees the minorities and other marginalized groups like the tribals is fairly well known. Their divisive and ultra nationalistic agenda is a part of their political ideology. But in the last two months since NDA has come to power, Indian media has come under pressure to not report stories which are critical of the BJP and its leaders. Even in the run up to the election campaign last year and this year, the BJP unleashed a major media blitzkrieg, especially on social networking sites, enrolling thousands of people to not only propagate its view point, but also aggressively confront people who had a differing view to theirs. Having differing points of view in a democratic set up is understandable and even desirable, but what distinguished the BJP supporters from those of other political parties was the sheer violent and abusive attitude they had towards their opponents. Many known media persons and intellectuals were abused and even threatened to voice opinions critical of Narendra Modi, BJP and its right wing ideology.

It seems BJP has brought that doctrine as a part of its governance. In 1975, Indian media faced censorship when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared emergency in the country. With notable exceptions, much of the media obliged her so much so that the BJP leader LK Advani famously commented, ‘’You were merely sked to bend, but you chose to crawl’’. Even during the second term of the UPA Govt, there were some feeble efforts by the Govt to muzzle freedom of expression. But most of their effort was limited to curbing social media. But this time during the NDa rule, the media has started experiencing a different kind of censorship. It has not directly been forced by Govt diktats but by powerful private entrepreneurs and politicians. First it was the Radia tapes in 2009 which blew the lid on the Media-Corporate nexus and how they were influencing the allotment of portfolios to ministers and also crucial Govt policies.

The recent phenomenon has to do with powerful media owners bringing pressure on journalists and editors to curb reporting and change editorial policies. In recent months, even before the NDA came to power many senior journalists have been eased out or have resigned their jobs. The first major victim was Sidharath Vardarajan of the Hindu, when in Oct 2013, the family owning the newspaper took over the reins of the paper and also started taking over the editorial policy. Hartosh Singh Bal, another known journalist was fired by the Open Magazine in Nov 2013. Both these journalists were known to be anti Modi and his bitter critics over the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

There have been major changes at one of Indias biggest media houses, Network 18, after Mukesh Ambani’s reliance Industries Ltd took the majority stake in the company in May this year. The network has seen many high profile exits, most notable being that of its star anchors Rajdeep Sardesia and his wife Sagarika Ghose. ‘’Reporters Without Borders’’ ranked India as one of the most restrictive countries in the world for press freedom in a report in Feb 2014. With the continuing pressure on Indian media, notably by its owners to toe a particular pro-establishment line, this record is going to be no better in the near future.

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