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Editors Guild accuses NDA govt of attempting to curb press freedom

A newspaper vendor reading the newspaper in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: S.Subramanium

The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday strongly criticised the government for interfering with the functioning of independent journalism. The Guild’s statement follows the recent exit of senior journalists from two electronic media channels, with at least one of them blaming the government for exerting pressure on proprietors for his exit.

The statement said: “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.”

Last month, at least two senior journalists of the Hindi television channel ABP News — its managing editor Milind Khandekar and senior anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai — left the channel. While Mr. Khandekar has not spoken about the reasons for his exit, Mr. Bajpai, in a long piece published online, said he was told to drop certain references to the government from his programmes and the pressure had been building up for days.

Corporate notice

The Editor’s Guild of India has also decried the “cease and desist” notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers, including The Hindu, in an effort to block the coverage of the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. The company should withdraw this notice, the Guild said, adding, “If needed, we hope the courts will weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions.”

PTI adds:

The Guild, an umbrella body of media organisations, in a statement, demanded suitable action against those responsible for “nefarious activities” aimed at “throttling” press freedom and urged media owners not to “cow down” to political pressure being put on them by the government or any other forces. It demanded that the government take note of the cases of disruptions in television programme signals, investigate and explain how and under what circumstances these “egregious violations” are taking place. It said such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and the foundations of India’s democracy.

“It (government) must also assure the nation that either directly or through any proxies or agencies it isn’t involved in this activity. And if it isn’t, these saboteurs must be brought to book. Freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with,” said the Guild.

Pressure from govt

The strong statement comes days after the managing editor and two anchors of a prominent TV channel resigned. The Congress has alleged that they quit due to pressure from the government for airing stories critical of the Modi dispensation. It said 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” content to make it less critical of the government, leaving them with no choice but to resign. The Guild said at least one such instance was reported formally in writing to it.

“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 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,” it said.

Disruption of TV signals

The Guild said one TV channel has also shared with it screen-shots and details indicating such interference. “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,” it said. “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 asserted that freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with and decried 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 Guild said.

It also reminded media owners that institutional strength and respect is directly linked to editorial independence and undermining the former can result in curtailing the latter.

“Owners and journalists have an equally shared interest in press freedoms and in resisting pressures,” the Guild said.


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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 7:42:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/editors-guild-accuses-nda-govt-of-attempting-to-curb-press-freedom/article24633482.ece

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