‘India one of the most dangerous countries for media’

Published June 24, 2023
US President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet with senior officials and CEOs of American and Indian companies in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US on June 23. — Reuters
US President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet with senior officials and CEOs of American and Indian companies in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US on June 23. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: India is the world’s largest democracy, yet it is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media, says a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post, published during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US capital this week.

The ad, which highlights the problems journalists in India face, was jointly sponsored by the world’s leading media and rights advocacy groups, including the National Press Club, Washington, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, International Press Institute (IPI), Internatio­nal Women’s Media Foundation, James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, Reporters Committee, and WAN IFRA.

It reminded the Biden administration, and the visitors from India, that “press freedom is under increasing threat” in India, “with journalists facing physical violence, harassment, bogus lawsuits, and hate campaigns on social media”.

The Post also published a news story, pointing out that the pressure built up by media and rights advocacy groups worked and Narendra Modi did something very unusual on Thursday at the White House (joint news conference) — he took questions from journalists.

Global press body decries media crackdowns in Kashmir, reminds Biden press freedom threats rising under Modi

The report noted that the news conference “was more limited than the kind that US presidents usually hold with foreign leaders, but even that wasn’t easy to arrange with Modi. Indian officials agreed to the event only the day before”.

Call to halt worsening press freedoms

In a separate statement, the IPI, a global network of editors and media executives, noted that “the alarming deterioration of press freedom in India must be halted, and Biden must make tackling these issues at home and abroad a priority”.

It advised Biden to “use this opportunity to raise critical issues regarding press freedom in India, including the plight of Kashmiri journalists and the expanded use of ‘lawfare’ to silence critical journalists”.

IPI also urged Biden to compel Modi to take concrete steps to improve the environment for press freedom in the country. “In the decade since Modi came to power, crackdowns on the media have become increasingly common,” the statement added.

Last month, IPI published an open letter to Modi, urging him to “take immediate and concrete action to protect freedom of expression and media freedom and to ensure that the Indian public can exercise their fundamental right to receive diverse, independent news and information”.

This week, IPI joined with seven other international press freedom groups as part of The Washington Post’s Press Freedom Partnership to publish the newspaper ad calling attention to the plight of six journalists currently being detained for alleged violations of Indian security laws.

In the past year alone, IPI documented over 200 press freedom threats or violations in India, which include judicial harassment, targeted online

hate campaigns, physical attacks, and detentions of journalists critical of Modi’s nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party.

Noting that the campaigns specifically targeted members of the Muslim minority, IPI added: “Many of these violations were committed at the hands of state authorities, underscoring the onus on Modi to initiate an immediate course reversal to protect the free press, a cornerstone of democracy.”

The statement also noted that in 2019, Modi revoked India-held Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomy, leading to a harsh crackdown on independent media operating in the predominantly Muslim region.

Since then, internet and mobile service shutdowns, travel bans, raids, surveillance and interrogations of Kashmiri journalists have made India-held Kashmir one of the world’s most difficult and restrictive environments for journalism, the statement added.

The statement pointed out that “Kashmir has the highest rate of internet shutdowns in the world, making it nearly impossible for journalists to contact sources, gather and verify information, and publish their work”.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2023

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