NEW DELHI: The Editors Guild of India has condemned the attempts to undermine the right to practise free and independent journalism in the country. The body has spoken in the wake of the recent resignations of some top journalists of a leading Hindi TV channel ABP News following the broadcast of some programs critical of the Narendra Modi government. The editor’s body has also condemned media owners for their “inability to withstand political covert or overt pressures from the political establishment.”
“The Editors Guild of India condemns the manner in which the right to practise free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces – some media owners’ inability to withstand political covert or overt pressures from the political establishment and frequent instances of blocking or interference in the transmission of television content that is seen to be critical of the government,” Editors Guild, headed by veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta, said on Wednesday.
“The past few days have seen senior journalists of at least two electronic media channels come out in the open to assert that their employers attempted to either tailor or tone down their content to make it less critical of the government, leaving them no choice other than resigning. At least one such instance has been reported formally in writing to the Guild. These instances are disconcerting.”
“The Guild decries all attempts on the part of the government to interfere in the free and independent functioning of journalists, either put under pressure directly, or through the proprietors,” said the body.
Two senior journalists at ABP News were made to resign or sent on long leave earlier this week following broadcast of some programs that did not please the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Milind Khandekar, Managing Editor at ABP News, quit on 1st August while the channel’s prime-time anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai resigned on 2nd August. Another senior anchor Abhisar Sharma has been asked to go off air for some weeks.
Last month, the channel had aired a program that claimed that a woman farmer who appeared in a video interaction with PM Modi had been tutored to make false claims that her income had doubled. On camera, the woman had told the channel that some officials had come to her home days before the interaction with the PM and taught her something. She said that she told the PM what she was asked to tell. She also denied that her income had doubled.
Following the program, several ministers of the Modi government criticized the channel for the program. Some reports say that even BJP president Amit Shah had allegedly threatened action against the channel.
In a long revealing article, Punya Prasun Bajpai has recalled the pressure built upon him by the owners of the channel in days and weeks after the critical program. He went ahead to claim as to how PMO officials were directly interfering in the media.
Editors’ Guild has urged media owners “to not cow down to political pressure.”
“Institutional strength and respect is directly linked to editorial independence and undermining the former can result in curtailing the latter. It urges them to not cow down to political pressure being brought upon them by the government or any other forces. Owners and journalists have an equally shared interest in press freedoms and in resisting pressures,” it said.
On deliberate disruptions during telecast of some critical programs, the body said: “Even more worrying are the recent instances where signals of television programmes critical of the government have seemingly been blocked or disrupted in a manner almost Orwellian. One TV channel has also shared with the Guild screen-shots and details indicating such interference. Such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and indeed the foundations of our democracy. These undermine the right to be informed and to hold the establishment accountable. This seems a brazen attempt to punish “unfriendly” news channels and silence inconvenient voices.”
“The Guild demands that the government take note of these instances of disruptions in television programme signals, investigate and explain how and under what circumstances these egregious violations are taking place. Suitable action must be taken against those who were responsible for such nefarious activities aimed at throttling media freedom.”
“The Guild also decries the tendency on the part of the government, and the political class in general, to use selective denial of journalistic access as a weapon. This has become worse when there are few opportunities to ask questions to those in public life or in official positions on public platforms like press conferences, which is a legitimate democratic right of journalists on behalf of all citizens. Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided.”
The editors’ body has also condemned the Reliance Defence Ltd for issuing notice to The Hindu daily for publishing reports on the controversial Rafale deal.
“The Guild decries the “cease and desist” notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers in an effort to block the coverage of an important Defence deal. The company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn’t, it should be resisted. If needed, we hope the courts will weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions,” it demanded.
The Modi government has recently inked Rafale deal with a French defence company to purchase 36 aircraft at a cost of Rs 60,000 crore through the Reliance Defence Ltd, which is alleged to have zero experience in defence sector.
Several Opposition parties including Congress have alleged that the deal would cause a loss of Rs 35,000 crore to the public exchequer.