According to the United Nations, media outlets are facing attacks, online and offline hurdles and increasing detentions. The landscape of freedom of media has reformed in the current scenario, especially since the Indian state has reshaped equivocal media censorship policies. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that 85% of the world population has been facing a decline in freedom of the press for the last five years.
The Indian media has become widely flattering of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rather than its actual job of gatekeeping. The Indian government has also been selective in the allocation of television licenses, effectively excluding unfriendly outlets from the airwaves to disseminate their own narrative. On World Press Freedom Day 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Ten Human Rights organizations have perpetuated that Indian authorities are increasingly targeting journalists and online critics for their criticism of government policies and practices, including by prosecuting them under counterterrorism and sedition laws.
Freedom of speech under siege
Even though, the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which provides freedom of speech and expression within its ambit, freedom of the press. The existence of free, independent and powerful media is the foundation of a democracy, especially in a society like India. In reality, the Indian press is facing atrocious and oppressive state policies to censor and control its content.
Journalists and Media personalities say that they are facing intimidation aimed at stopping them from running stories against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration. Furthermore, the present Indian administration endorsed the idea that holding the government accountable is not part of the Media’s duty. The reigning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has supported campaigns to discourage speech that is “antinational,” and government-aligned ruffians have raided critical journalists’ residences and workplaces.
The Indian establishment has been associated with using the Israeli-produced spyware Pegasus to target journalists and media workers. Moreover, the government’s frequent internet shutdowns hinder the ability of journalists to do their work with freedom, including accessing and disseminating information online. BJP’s extreme take on journalists and Media personnel is damaging the so-called democratic image of India internationally. Through Pegasus software usage, BJP has been weaponizing online data. By using the Israel-made software Indian authorities have targeted about 50,000 mobile phones, among which 1,000 phones belonged to Journalists and Public figures.
The software was supposed to be used against criminals to fight against terrorism but the Indian state used it to control media. The specific target among journalists were those who were reporting from most conflict-prone zones, such as Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the north-east, and the states subject to left-wing insurgencies, such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In an intervention in Parliament soon after the 2021 revelations of usage of Pegasus spyware, India’s Minister for Information Technology, himself believed to be on the hack list, rejected them as utter falsehoods and perpetuated that surveillance was carried out over legitimate national security purposes. Moreover, Indian authorities called it a conspiracy against India.
Surveillance on Journalists
Currently, the Indian State has established equivocal criteria for surveillance of journalists and media workers. According to the Indian newspaper: The wire, BJP has made seven separate attempts to monitor citizens’ activities on social media and influence public approaches wherever possible. India’s democracy dream is dying as the media is under siege. Big names in the Media are busy flattering Modi’s office and courts are unwilling to take swift and decisive action to uphold the constitutional guarantee of Freedom of the Press.
Under the BJP government, the ongoing assault on Indian media freedom takes various forms:
- The arrest and imprisonment of journalists for reporting facts.
- The filing of fake criminal cases against reporters.
- The use of illegal surveillance such as Pegasus spyware against journalists
- Physical assaults on reporters in the field, sometimes by officials but also by ‘non-state actors’ whose proximity to the Modi gang grants them impunity.
- The control on social media arbitrators to delete content against BJP
- The imposition of a ban on television stations on anonymous – and apparently fictitious – national security grounds.
- The use of official agencies to harass media houses and journalists in the name of ‘economic offenses’.
- The use of internet blackouts.
- Favoritism and vindictiveness in the allocation of government advertising.
- Arbitrariness in the approval process for official accreditation and foreign investment (FDI) in digital media.
- The de facto ban on news coverage related to visits to IIOJK by the international media.
- The tightening of rules for journalist visas.
Recently, the Indian Minister of State for Information Technology gave an interview to The Hindu, in which he asserted that the Indian cabinet is planning to amend the Information Technology Act, 2000 to introduce restrictions to free speech and freedom of the press that go “beyond 19(2)”.
Indian media associates, workers and Journalists are voicing their concerns via international platforms for the sake of freedom of the press in India. Indian Media is currently facing an undeclared emergency under Modi’s rule. India’s democracy is dying day by day yet its death is inevitable. Therefore, the article explains that the Indian press is under siege. It is the need of the hour that media workers must find ways to stand on their ground and raise their voices in solidarity against the tyranny of the BJP in India.
The Author has done her MPhil from RIPHAH International University, Islamabad and is currently working as a Research Officer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.