Modi-Shah Desperate to Muzzle Free Press before Lok Sabha Poll

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The media situation in the country is precarious. At the national level, excepting one or two, most of the leading news channels managements are aligned with the ruling party and on their own, they are touting the policies of the Modi government forgetting the minimum principles of journalism. In some channels, the anchors act as the loyal spokesmen of the BJP and the Modi government, attacking the opposition parties in the foulest language. A report, for Different Truths.

The latest reports about the resignations of two leading respected journalists of  a national TV channel ABP News following the high pressure from the BJP ministers and  the  party bosses on the company management, only indicate that the  ruling party leadership is becoming more and more desperate to muzzle whatever has remained  of the independent press through its strong arm tactics and this will be stepped up more in the coming months preceding the crucial Lok  Sabha polls in April/May 2019.

All indications suggest that the action was the result of the journalistic audacity of the ABP News anchor Punya Prasoon Bajpai to carry out investigations on the spot to verify the claim made by a peasant woman of Chhattisgarh about the doubling of her income in an organised programme for the Prime Minister. Bajpai, fully supported by his managing editor Milind Khandeker, showed how the peasant woman was tutored before by the Modi officials to say what the PM wanted to hear, and this programme was telecast in his channel’s premier slot from 9 PM to 10 PM titled Masterstroke.

The series of developments in the month of July concerning the programme show to what extent the Modi government machinery and the saffron leaders can go to muzzle media, both print and electronic and how the government funds are used indiscriminately to serve the political purpose of perpetuating the rule of the BJP by resorting to coercive tactics to persuade the recalcitrant media to fall in line. As the anchor Bajpai has learnt through his agonizing experience- at every level, there is surveillance by the Modi government on the reports prepared by the correspondents on the performance of the Government and if there is anything critical, immediate intervention is made in all forms, covert or overt.

The astonishing revelation is that the Prime Minister is now reconciled to the position that the people have found out his hoax on acche din and the Government has no other alternative but to project the PM’s good work for the poor in positive light through the media at all costs and to do that, a 200 strong team of officials at the information and broadcasting ministry is monitoring whatever is appearing in the TV channels. The officials who watch prime time content are asked to prepare a report on the duration for which the bulletin shows the PM, obviously in a good light. Those who show him for the longest duration in positive light, are considered the best.

The ABP News developments show that the anchor was first warned about the consequences of his journalistic audacity in showing the PM Modi in poor light through his Masterstroke programme telecast on July 9. When Bajpai stuck to his journalistic principles and refused to budge, his management was given signals and then this was followed by hitting the business through the pressure on advertisers to withdraw ads and adversely hit the economic viability of the organization. Simultaneously, disturbances were artificially created during the programme time in the channel to ensure that the viewers are not able to see the Masterstroke exposing PM in the designated hour.

What ABP News channel has undergone is the model which the ruling party and the Modi government  will  follow in dealing with the other TV channels which will make any effort to do  objective shows on the performance of the Modi government in the last four years. The Modi dispensation is following a carrot and stick strategy – it is rewarding the pro-government TV channels with largesse’s in different forms and those who stand on sidelines, are being signaled that what happened to ABP News, will happen to them if they do not fall in line. The TV channels need huge investments and it is difficult for the managements, without deep pockets, to ignore the Government diktat since on so many things for the operations of the channels, the managements have to depend on the government agencies.

As of now, the media situation in the country is precarious. At the national level, excepting one or two, most of the leading news channels managements are aligned with the ruling party and on their own, they are touting the policies of the Modi government forgetting the minimum principles of journalism. In some channels, the anchors act as the loyal spokesmen of the BJP and the Modi government, attacking the opposition parties in the foulest language. In the states, especially in the western and northern India, the local small channels are dominated by small time businessmen and politicians and most of them have links with the BJP. As a result, in small towns and districts, the dissemination of TV news has got distinct pro-BJP slant. In South and East, however, the situation is a bit different due to the presence of the strong regional parties.

In all these TV channels, there are many journalists with strong spine and principles, but most of them, have to reconcile to their existing jobs as they are on contracts and the job market is very tough. Once a journalist leaves an organization fighting with the management or the government, it is difficult to get a job again. K L Khandeker and Bajpai have the guts and the requisite strength of conviction to the journalistic ethics, they did not succumb to pressure and resigned, but this cannot always be expected from the other journalists who are pained to see the decay of values and meek surrender of the managements to the pressures of the government and the ruling party.

The journalists’ organisations have to discuss the issues facing the media immediately. Things will deteriorate further in the coming eight months preceding the Lok Sabha poll. The task is difficult but a way out has to be found to stop this process. The opposition parties mentioned the issue in Parliament last week but that is not sufficient. They have to ensure the freedom of the press in their common minimum programme to fight the BJP in the ensuing Lok Sabha poll. Removing the Modi government from power is the only option at this stage for protecting the independence of the working journalists. This is a continuing battle and it will continue even when a non-BJP government comes to power.

Nitya Chakraborty
©IPA Service 

Photo from the Internet