Journalists rethink jobs as India targets media
Rights groups are concerned about Indian authorities using anti-terror laws to target reporters and media outlets who don't follow the government narrative
India has about 900 journalism schools, which produce thousands of graduates every year who go on to start careers in media. Newly qualified journalists, who already have to deal with decreasing opportunities and low pay, are now faced with what many are describing as state-sponsored attacks on the press.
Students often dedicate years to pursuing their degrees, and some young journalists say they are being discouraged before their careers can even get off the ground.
At least 25 people were questioned at the start of October by police in New Delhi after raids on the homes of reporters working for NewsClick — an outlet that has been critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP-led government.
Indian authorities arrested NewsClick's founder Prabir Purkayastha and its human resources head Amit Chakravarty under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), officially an "anti-terror" law.
The raids and arrests were part of a probe into NewsClick after a police report alleged that the outlet had received funding from China in exchange for publishing stories that criticised Indian policies and projects and defended Chinese policies and programmes.
NewsClick denied the allegations and criticised the proceedings against it as "a blatant attempt to muzzle the free and independent press in India" — a charge dismissed by the government.
The (BJP) has faced repeated questions about the state of the country's media. 'Behind Bars', a decade-long study by the Free Speech Collective, reported that 16 journalists have been accused of UAPA violations since 2010.
For many young journalists, the struggle for free speech in India starts at university. Doreen Bora, a 25-year-old journalism graduate, told DW that an esteemed professor at New Delhi's Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) was prevented from instructing for an entire year because of her political leanings.
"I recall being thoroughly disappointed because my institution was closely associated with the Ministry of Broadcasting and yet this happened blatantly," Bora said. "My professor cautioned us that the concept of 'freedom' in journalism in India was waning, and we are entering a troubled time."
"Two years later, I am in the country's capital city, expected to live on the lowest salary possible. How long can passion drive me forward?" Bora asked.
Bora said she witnessed protests and arrests during the movement against the Citizens Amendment Act, a law that was passed in 2019 to determine "genuine" Indian citizens. "If people persisted in questioning and criticising the government during the Emergency, why are we unable to do the same in today's 'democratic' India?" she asked.
Vrinda Sharma, a 28-year-old journalist, said she witnessed the difficulties faced by New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV), a broadcaster that pioneered independent news in India. NDTV underwent government agency raids in 2017 amid allegations of money laundering.
Following financial struggles and substantial debts, the corporation was subsequently acquired through a hostile takeover led by Gautam Adani, an industrialist who is close to the BJP.
"As someone who reports on politics, I'm starting to feel really nervous," Sharma told DW. "If police can arrest reporters who used to work for NewsClick, then I can see myself facing very real dangers in the future."
Saumya Rastogi, a 25-year-old who works for a prominent national newspaper in India, told DW that her department focuses on lifestyle topics rather than political ones.
"Therefore, I do not view news of attacks on journalists at a personal level," she said. "Nevertheless, I am interested in pursuing field reporting in future, but my parents often advise me against it."
Despite the difficulty, Sharma said she is still keen to continue her journalist work because it "contributes to a bigger picture".
"It's the sense of responsibility that keeps me going, even though those in power are causing this system to crumble."
Independent news outlets also often struggle to generate sufficient revenue to pay their journalists a decent wage.
Bora said deficient funding is a problem for Indian media. She recalled that a senior student at IIMC once said that "our duty as journalists is to occupy areas not covered by advertisements."
The government's targeting of news portals and labelling their funding as "terrorism" can also serve to dampen the dissemination of free and impartial information in India.
DW transparency note: India's NewsClick news outlet was a DW local media partner until December 2022, and was republishing DW content throughout the first half of 2023