For a democracy, that too being the largest in the world, India’s media is in a horrendous state. With constant censorship and threats from the State and non-state actors, journalists in this country are enduring terrible times only to practice their profession. Freedom of speech and expression which is protected by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution has lost all of its significance. Our country has become a breeding ground for producing a restrained and a biased media which are owned by giant corporates and close aids of political leaders. Reporters without Borders which is an international NGO has rightly placed India at 140th position in its World Press Freedom Index. It is humiliating to note that it has dropped down 7 points from 2016 and countries like Afghanistan, Nepal and Palestine have a better index than us. Industrialists like Mukesh Ambani who is an ally with BJP own and control large sections of media houses and have full control over the news which reaches and has the power to influence millions of people. With 11 journalists murdered, 46 attacked and 27 booked in police cases last year, India is now marked as fifth on the list of countries that are unsafe for journalists.
Media is conceptualized as the ‘fourth estate’ of a true democratic and secular country. It must be allowed to function independently of the government to keep a check on the power of the State and objectively analyze and critique its actions to report to the people at large. From what I’ve been able to perceive, Indian media has increasingly gained recognition as an extension of the government. No one can trust the news which is reported to us. For a State to have such a high degree of control over media, democracy is bound to fail. The government gains so much power that it can escape media scrutiny and makes it easier for them to silence and punish any resistance or opposition by fabricating the truth.
People belonging to this profession revealed that they’re under extreme pressure from the government to serve its agenda. Any outsider would think ill of them for complying with the government’s wishes rather than collectively fighting back. But no one can understand the depth of the problem unless they’ve faced the same scenario. Receiving death and rape threats daily and living in a state of panic worrying for your life, one loses their sense of righteousness and does whatever they can to survive.
Some people continue to practice this profession with sincerity thereby risking their lives and those who succumb to the pressure and give in. Bobby Ghosh, an editor of The Hindustan Times, resigned from the post as the government was purportedly unhappy with a hate crime tracker in India which was launched under his leadership. Since his exit, the tracker has been pulled down. Arnab Goswami, an eminent TV news anchor who is known for his combative style and one of Modi’s ardent supporter was given immediate permission to launch Republic TV whereas at the same time Bloomberg Quint which is known to critical of Modi has been waiting for over two years to go on air. Gauri Lankesh who was a fearless advocate for marginalized and leftists’ causes was brutally murdered in her driveway in September 2017. Her death had sent shockwaves through the media. Her colleague Sudipto Mondal talked about her in an article and said, “I had known her for 10 years. All I ever did was argue with her. Our arguments had acquired an increasing intensity in the three years since Narendra Modi came to power and India turned toward majoritarianism and intolerance. An outspoken critic of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, she said in her last editorial that spreading fake news had contributed to the success of Mr. Modi and his party.”
While most mainstream platforms in the US are so profoundly against President Donald Trump’s tenure that he routinely accuses them of being culprits of ‘fake news’ and character assassinations, journalists in India do not enjoy this kind of freedom of calling out our country’s leader. It is dangerous for a nation to have such a high degree of state control over media. Not only does it contribute to the advancement of an all-powerful government that can escape criticism, but it also makes it easier to silence and punish any opposition faced. Modi in his entire tenure has shockingly had only one press conference regarding the Pulwama attacks and yet didn’t take any questions from the journalists. He tweeted in April 2018 saying “I want this Government to be criticized. Criticism makes democracy strong.” But he should’ve mentioned that if you say anything against him or his ardent followers, you’ll end up facing harsh consequences. He has effectively cut off all communication with the media after coming to power in 2014, using social media platforms like Twitter and radio programs like Mann Ki Baat and fluffy staged interviews with pliant journalists to deliver his one way series of monologue. The long-simmering crisis of credibility in the Indian news media reached a boiling point when Article 370 which described Kashmir’s relationship with India for 70 years was revoked without taking Kashmiris’ point of view into consideration. There has been a complete communication blackout leaving people desperately trying to contact their loved ones stuck there with no clue if they are even alive or not. It has pushed Kashmir to a point of no return. There has been a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of the locals. But the media has painted a completely different picture. It is being reported that order has been established and everything has gone back to normal when the reality is the exact opposite.
Edward Snowden, a renowned public figure said, “When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are ruled by criminals.” Republic, ABP, Aaj Tak, etc. are not news channels, they are the pellet guns that are being used by the Indian government to blind its citizens. These are dark times we’re living in. News is being manipulated by the government for its selfish political gains and so much that millions of people are living under the illusion of everything being under control and in order. Some action needs to be taken before freedom of the press is completely compromised in this country. It’s time for the press of the largest democracy of the world to work hand-in-hand with the judiciary for the welfare of its people and to keep our nation’s democracy alive.