If true, contents of GoM report on ‘Government Communication’ reveal alarming plans to manipulate the media
The GoM is said to have compiled this document after six meetings among themselves and many consultations with other people from media, business, industries etc towing the government line
A 97-page report of the Group of Ministers (GoM) of the Government of India on ‘Government Communication’, which has somehow been circulating the journalists, seems to have revealed the secret as to how certain ministers, journalists, and BJP-RSS leaders conspired to establish full control on the media in India.
To call it a conspiracy may not be an overstatement since a “conspiracy is some agreement, expressed or implied, of two or more persons to do an unlawful act or to do a lawful act by unlawful means.” Section 120 A of Indian Penal Code defines a criminal conspiracy as a combination of agreement between several persons to carry into effect a purpose harmful to some individual or to particular classes of people or to the public at large.
The government has powers to make rules and therefore such an act cannot be said to be a part of conspiracy, provided that there is no trace of malafide intention. However, the report of the GoM making rounds is clear evidence that the intention of the government in making the rules was malafide on several accounts including suppression of the contents being published in media outlets, flagging journalists who write things that go against the government, setting up narratives favourable for the government, and violating not only the statutory rights but also the fundamental rights of the people to know and express the truth without any hindrance, from the government or from the people they support or are supported by.
The report of the Group of Ministers on Government Communication gives such information that fulfils the first requirement of two or more people who were primarily interested in scuttling the embarrassing truth appearing in media, which is against the fundamental right of expression. It is also against the principle of justice, for not allowing people to voice injustice is nothing less than miscarriage of justice, especially when government officials are interested in suppressing the victims by overtly or covertly supporting or helping the perpetrators.
Media has been under great pressure under Modi’s rule right from its inception in 2014. Financial resources were systematically caused to dry up for thousands of media organizations. Many newspapers and magazines had to shut down their operations. The struggle of print media to survive has been by and large remained buried because television channels have acquired the centrestage, becoming the mainstream media.
Many of the media organizations, both in print and television, preferred to support the Modi rule, which helped the government to have its own dominating narrative, brushing the embarrassing truth against the misrule of the government under the carpet.
The GoM report mentions even the Republic TV as creating “Pokhran Effect”, a term used to in the document perhaps for the “information explosion in favour of the government”. It completes the essence of the conspiracy, since we have seen how the editor-in-chief of the organization was supported by several leaders of the Modi government when he was arrested for a criminal conspiracy by the Maharashtra Government.
Not only that, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy was quoted in the document saying, “Planned communication is good for normal times but to create Pokhran effect … This is being done by Republic, but the Republic is seen as pariah. Therefore, we need a Pokhran to turn the narrative.”
It was also endorsed by no less than our Communications and IT minister Ravi Sankar Prasad. Prasad had also recommended drawing up a list of media personnel and prominent persons “who are pro our line of thought both nationally and globally.”
This shows how many people conspired to establish almost full control on the print and television media, and marginalize the ones that did not follow the dictate of the governments or their hints as to what should be printed or broadcast. The government tried to control not only what was ‘fit to print or publish’ but also what was ‘fit to think’.
The little place which public interest found in the print and television media gave rise to dissatisfaction among the people and they rushed towards the internet and social media for voicing their concern, where they had to face a large army of the ‘Modi fan clubs’. They go on saying anything, even the untrue, spreading rumours, discrediting those opposed to PM.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, total collapse of the economy, and unprecedented suffering of the migrant workers and the common people, digital content against the government’s mishandling of the situation could not be suppressed in the digital media despite orders to remove such contents.
Then came the Chinese intrusion in June 2020 while the government was in slumber. A volley of criticism appeared in digital media which increased the activities of the nine-member GoM on government communication which included Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, S Jaishankar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, Arurag Thakur, and Babul Supriyo.
The recent Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, promulgated on February 25, should be read in the preceding context, which seeks to work as a watchdog over the big tech companies, social media networking sites, and other digital platforms including OTT. Clearly the government does not want people to know all aspects of anything, but only the ones that the government wishes the people to know.
These rules were brought to complete governments control, after the print and TV, on the digital media, because its combined reach is faster and wider compared to TV, radio, and print. It undermines fundamental rights, democracy, and core values of public accountability enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Some bills are even pending in the Parliament, such as Data Privacy Bill, which will fully establish the government control over the media as a whole with a public surveillance in place. Even encrypted content was to be legally decrypted though it comes in conflict with the privacy rules being implemented all over the world.
Digital news media would face unfair censor of news with the power of the government to order removal of contents, and that too will require strict confidentiality to be maintained by the media houses regarding blocking and removal orders in so called “national interest”, rendering the entire process opaque.
The aim of amplifying the government policies, programmes, and achievement is ‘legal work’, but this so called legal work must not be attained by exaggerated information and favourable analysis. Government cannot violate its fundamental duties towards protecting the people in all respects. Suggestion of “colour coding” journalists as per their treatment of news is nothing short of conspiracy.
The GoM has compiled this document after six meetings among themselves and many consultations with other people from media, business, industries etc towing the government line. Naqvi’s proposal to indentify a “strategy to neutralize people who are writing against the government without facts and set false narratives/ spread fake news” is most disturbing, because the term ‘neutralise’ can be understood by the people according to their individual humour, the meaning of which can range from simply making ineffective to even more serious ones.
Hardeep Puri has been quoted as mentioning “political and commercially backed interests” while emphasising “strong need to deal with the international media and shape the global narrative”.
“Preparing separate, appropriate and different narrative for international media” was suggested by Jaishankar, which is nothing but discrimination to be practiced among journalists apart from the colouring of news, violating the very ethics of neutrality.
Javadekar was quoted as saying “narrative is fuelled by around 20-30 people” which reveals that at least that many people were conspiring in favour of the government against the reported “truth”.
Irani’s suggestion of tracking 50 negative and positive influencers and asking the government to partner with social media organizations and engage with them “informally” is indicative of something that cannot be done in black and white.
These may be only the tip of the iceberg, and a greater part of the action plan may be hiding below the surface.
(Views expressed are personal and not that of National Herald)