As on November 16 of every year, the National Press Day is being celebrated in India. The day marks the importance of an independent and responsible press in India. The media is often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy for its role as a watchdog.
Journalists are supposed to uncover the truth even in the most adverse of circumstances. The Press Council of India (PCI) started functioning on this day in 1966. But the point is how effective has the Indian media been over the years for speaking truth to power.
Just this week, the highly respected Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) carried two damning reports about the media in India, the latest one on yesterday where it condemned a week-old wave of online threats and hate messages targeting Rana Ayyub (https://rsf.org/en/news/new-hate-campaign-against-indian-columnist-rana-ayyub) and called on the authorities to shed light on the possible complicity of members of the police force.
Ayyub had tweeted a seemingly innocuous statement on the eve of the Ayodhya verdict, following which a torrent of Twitter insults and calls for Ayyub to be raped or murdered, that were orchestrated by trolls linked to the Hindu nationalist movement, flooded the Web.
“Even more amazingly, it elicited a threat of legal action that came from the Twitter account of the police in Amethi, a town 100 km south of Ayodhya,” the RSF statement added.
India is ranked an abysmal 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Also, this week, RSF came out with a series of videos on the 100th day of communications blackout in the Kashmir Valley. (https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-breaks-silence-forced-journalists-indian-administered-kashmir) RSF’s local correspondent interviewed nine local journalists about the constraints they have had to work under as a result of this blackout.
Further, a few days back, RSF called on the Indian government to rescind its “shocking” decision to withdraw Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) from Aatish Taseer in what the organisation called “is clearly a reprisal for an article critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. (https://rsf.org/en/news/india-strips-overseas-citizenship-reporter-who-criticized-modi)
On the occasion of National Press Day, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar Saturday said the media should guard against “fake news” and desist from providing any “disinformation and misinformation”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also tweeted about the significance of a free press.
However, in a 2018 study by BBC found that a “rising tide of nationalism in India is driving ordinary citizens to spread fake news.” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-46146877)
“There was also an overlap of fake news sources on Twitter and support networks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” it said.
“Widespread sharing of false rumours on WhatsApp has led to a wave of violence in India, with people forwarding on fake messages about child abductors to friends and family out of a sense of duty to protect loved ones and communities…According to a separate BBC analysis, at least 31 people have been killed in the last two years, and 24 people in the past year alone, in incidents involving rumours spread on social media or messaging apps,” read the 2018 report.
Who can forget the TV channels and the celebrity anchors which told us how nano chips are embedded into the Rs 2000 currency notes? Who can forget the tough grilling of PM Narendra Modi on the eve of the 2019 General Election when he was asked if he carried a wallet on him?
The Indian media is whole-heartedly responsible and a willing accomplice in bringing India to the dystopian state that the nation finds itself in today. It has willingly sacrificed truth at the altar of servitude and largesse. There are exceptions but they are few and far between. Not much to be proud of on National Press Day.