Ranjona Banerji: Press Freedom in India doing well? Ha ha ha!

21 Aug,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


By Irony has no bounds in Narendra Modi’s India. According to a report in The Print, the Modi government has planned a “media blitz” for “image correction” on India’s low ranking on global press freedom indices.

Just read that again, please. Because I’m not really sure I’ve understood it myself. Have I got this right? The Modi government, which has attacked press freedom and Article 19 of the Constitution of India more than any other government (yes, am including the dreaded and terrible Emergency of 1975-77 here), now plans to use the media to advertise to the world that press freedom in India is doing very well indeed.

I will remind you, in case you need reminding, that the global pandemic is not over, that India’s infection figures rise every day and that we are close to the top of the charts when it comes to Covid-19-infected people. I will remind you, in case you need reminding, that the economy is in a continuing state of collapse. I will remind you, in case you need reminding, that the situation at our borders remains on tenterhooks and PM Modi is too scared to even mention China in his strong, bombastic oratory. I will remind you, in case you need reminding, that the Modi government has used the cover of the virus and lockdowns to work out a plan to further destroy India’s fragile environmental balance. I will remind you, in case you need reminding, that job losses in most sectors, whether blue collar or white collar, continue to rack up. Not least in the media by the way, which has seen, in typical subeditor hyperbolic terms, a bloodbath.

I will also remind you, since you may well have forgotten, large swathes of the media are so invested in the sad death of one actor, that they now ignore all the problems facing most Indians and indeed themselves. Muck, sleaze, innuendo, lies have covered the case of Sushant Singh Rajput so effectively that all dignity for the departed has been forgotten. This loss of dignity normally leads to large-scale crocodile tears from society and the media.

Now instead we have a free-for-all with politics having entered the picture. This state versus that, this police chief versus that, this investigating agency versus that. With sections of the ambulance-chasing media in full “investigation” mode even to the extent of apparently hacking supposedly “end to end encrypted” Whatsapp messages. Wasn’t the phone-hacking News of the World scandal of 2011 something like this? Well, never mind, that case didn’t come to anything much either.

And even the Supreme Court of India, which does not have the time to deal with Constitutional issues like questionable citizenship acts and the disenfranchisement of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, somehow manages find the time to weigh in on this case as well.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the number of journalists harassed, harangued, interrogated, arrested, jailed for questioning governments in India, which has increased over the last six years. And that is why, actually, that our rankings are so low on press freedom and such indices. Most recently, a freelance journalist in UP has been arrested for retweeting a tweet with morphed images (the original tweeter is fine) and three journalists with Caravan magazine were beaten up and attacked by a mob because they were working on the aftermath of the Delhi riots of earlier this year.

The details are here:



And that is why the Modi government plans a media blitz. It will do nothing to stop attacks on the press by governments, especially of they are BJP governments. It will do nothing to control mobs, especially if they are BJP-connected mobs. It will do nothing to stop threats and arm-twisting of journalists, editors, owners of media house because the reason for the threats, the arm-twisting is to control criticism of the Modi government and the BJP.

But the Modi government will waste public money on a “media blitz” to tell the world that the media is doing fine in India.


The tragedy is that large sections of the media will go along with these outright lies. The same sections of the media which are obsessed with Sushant Singh Rajput’s death over the deaths of thousands of Indians to a marauding virus which the Modi government has been incompetent at handling.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter @ranjona

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