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Freedom of Press: Mockery by the Indian Government

Introduction

India’s free press has played a vital role in maintaining and protecting the integrity, sovereignty, and liberty of the country. The press, since the time of independence from Britain in 1947, has valued the safeguarding of democracy as its utmost priority. Today, the scenario is not best in favor of the journalists, reporters, news writers, and columnists. The Government is suppressing the press in carrying out their duty of disseminating the truth amongst the public. The successful functioning of every democracy is hindered by government intervention and media control. As the fourth pillar of democracy, its independence is essential.  Continued attacks and arrests of journalists have aroused suspicions around the nation. In the heavily militarized and sensitive region of Jammu and Kashmir, where the restriction of press freedom distorts ground reality and the state’s national narrative, the situation is even more aggravated.

Since our honorable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi along with his legislative council came to power in 2014, they have been trying to control the country’s press and media like never before. This has created a deceptive and false image of him as an ultimate savior in the eyes of a humongous amount of population.

Freedom of Press and the Current Situation

Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has shown immense pride towards the Indian Press for their exceptional role in disseminating Covid-19 awareness, making the Indian Media look more vibrant and fundamental globally. It is surprising to witness the hypocrisy on part of our Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah, claiming, that any attack on the Freedom of the Press is detrimental to national interests and should be opposed by all at all times. Although, the reality is quite unfortunate.  It has been found that over the last decade, more than 154 journalists have faced arrests, summons, show cause notices, charges, etc. while exercising their fundamental rights. 2020 itself accounts for 40% of these instances. The highest number of attacks are in the state of UP where the Chief Minister Mr. Yogi Adityanath, talks highly about the betterment and freedom of the journalists. The farcical part is, states with the highest number of attacks on journalists are ruled by the BJP Government. In the past few months, the ruling government has been trying its best to overcome the international backlash that it received owing to plenty of issues, such as the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the imposition of months-long shutdown in Kashmir, the abrogation of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA), and the Shaheen Bagh protests, the communal violence in the Northeast, the burst of islamophobia and xenophobia in the country and now, hiding the failed law and order in the Hathras Rape Case.

It is unreasonable to believe that journalists in Non-BJP Government states are safe. Covid-19 has given the administration an edge to target the journalists and file not single but multiple cases against them.  In Chhattisgarh, ruled by Congress, a minimum of half a dozen journalists were either charged with an offense or attacked or threatened by non-state actors, including members of the ruling party and the Maoists. Ironically, the Congress Party in its manifesto for the 2018 elections promised to create laws for the protection of journalists. In May 2020, the Apex Court barred the West Bengal Police from arresting five TV Journalists, who were charged with a couple of offenses after conducting a sting operation to aware and inform the citizens that the state ministers and Trinamool Congress MLAs deliberately take bribes. The situation in the Northeast Area isn’t any better for media persons as they face multiple challenges, including lack of insurance, the threat of violence, and detention while reporting the issues from the conflicted areas in the Northeast region. In August 2020, three journalists of the Caravanmagazine were assaulted, subjected to communal slurs, threatened with murder, and sexually harassed by locals while reporting in Delhi.

Recently, Siddique Kappan, a Delhi-based, Malayalam-language journalist and secretary of Union’s Delhi Unit, along with three others was arrested in Mathura, UP. The UP Police alleged that they had received information that some “suspicious people were on their way to Hathras from Delhi”. The Police statement suggests that a laptop, their mobile phones, and some literary texts which could have “affected the law and order were seized”. The journalist union demanded Kappan’s earliest release as he was only carrying out his duty as a reporter.  Moreover, the UP police alleged that Kappan was related to PFI. The UP Government asked for a ban on PFI as the CAA Protests in the state were thought to be conducted by the organization. PFI claimed that the UP Government to shy away from its deteriorated law and order has been creating bizarre conspiracy theories.

J&K Police booked Gowhar Geelani for “glorifying terrorism” and “indulging in practices that are prejudicial to the country”. Geelani was the third journalist who was charged for unlawful conduct without any reasonable or justified evidence. The official statement issued by the police did not mention the sections under which Geelani was charged. Arnab Goswami, anchor of the channel the Republic TV, called out a group of Kashmiri political individuals in an offensive, laudatory manner. He portrayed them as “heroes” who would showcase their anti-nationalist side by amplifying the discourse of the reality of Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Press Council also played its part pretty sheepishly. It very smoothly intervened in Arnab Goswami’s case but remained silent over the issue of police filing FIRs against the three journalists in Kashmir and invoking charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).

Today, when there is already enough polarization and contrast in politics, there is a need for consistency. Precedents and Laws have to work in a just manner regardless of who one is. In the Bhima Koregaon case, the accused, Sudha Bharadwaj, who was denigrated by Goswami on his channel, ironically was locked in Taloja Jail with him. The Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea for an interim bail for Bharadwaj, even when no evidence was found against her. Her plea for interim bail to get her medical issues (diabetes and other co-morbidities for COVID-19 diagnosed was not considered by the Supreme Court justifiably. On the other hand, Arnab Goswami’s civil liberties have been given more priority, even after he continually discredits and damages people’s reputations by calling them anti-nationals and terrorists and brainwashes people into believing so. Henceforth, it is immoral and unethical that the Supreme Court took his case on a priority basis.

Recently, the arrest of Munawar Faruqui has hit the head on the nail. The Government has made sure to instill terror and fear amongst the public for going against the Government. The government’s mindset of unsparingly dealing with mere religious jokes proves that there is some serious oiling required. A mere anecdote turned into a comic has outraged the Government, imagine something similar happening on a large scare by a mass of people. Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is often invoked against someone who is accused of hurting religious sentiments. It is an archaic and draconian law and was one of the parting gifts of the British. Such a law holds no place in a free, modern society.

Conclusion

India’s Government has pressured and threatened and even shut down channels, national dailies, magazines, blogs, etc. to alter the information received and encoded by 130 crore Indians. India has been ranked poorly on the Press Freedom Index 2020. The score fell by two positions to 142 out of 180 nations. The US, Freedom House Report suggests that this is the worst decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies in the year 2020. The shrewd tactics of the Indian Government will not help India attain a “vibrant image” globally, as expected by anytime our Prime Minister Mr.  Narendra Modi soon.

This article is authored by Tanisha Gautam, Student at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

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