Ranjona Banerji: How many of us crave PIB control?

20 Jan,2023

By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiHow far before we become a completely authoritarian fascist state? Well, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s new proposal to monitor and remove journalistic content on the pretext of fake news is a chilling reminder of what this government wants to do to the media. The law, should it come into effect, will make the Press Information Bureau – a government department – the final arbiter of what is fake and what is not. If the PIB deems a piece of news to be fake, the news has to be removed from all digital platforms.

No clever argument can disguise what this is – a blatant attempt to destroy whatever remnants we have left in India of a free press. The first duty of the press in a democracy is to speak truth to power and that means the government of the day, the establishment. This barely happens in India anyway, especially since 2014. If the government now decides what is news and what is not, then that is the effective end of a free press.

The Editors Guild of India and other media organisations have objected to proposal. Lawyers have pointed out that the law is unconstitutional.



What difference this makes to the government depends on how seriously journalists take this. So many have already capitulated, some even willingly, to government control that solidarity as we have seen is almost impossible. We have been threatened as journalists consistently over the past eight years, more than ever before, including the Emergency of 1975 to 1977. And yet, we have been unable to bring ourselves together as one voice. This proposed draft amendment to the IT rules, giving the final decision of what is fake and what is not to a Central government employee is one more straw. Is this the one that will break the camel’s back? Is this the one which will get us to stand up and say “no more”?

I’m not even joking.

But take a look at this week. Several pro-Modi, pro-BJP and pro-Central government editors and TN anchors took to social media this week, full of outrage, to point out that India’s top wrestlers, including medal winners, were on a protest against a Wrestling Federation office-bearer and no one was paying attention to them. The allegations are of sexual assault. Yet, not one of these editors and anchors made it clear that the accused was a member of the ruling BJP. Not one called the ruling party and its functionaries to account. And these are all big names in the media. Who could not even name an accused because he belonged to the BJP.

Should we laugh now?

The first response of the Government of India to a BBC documentary on Narendra Modi and his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002, and his relationship with Muslims, is to get the BBC, Youtube and so on to take the documentary off air in India.

There is nothing in India: The Modi Question which was not said at the time, that has not been seen before, that has not been talked about since. Part of the documentary is based on an internal report by the then British foreign secretary Jack Straw, who is quoted as saying that the riots were a “stain” on Modi. And yet the government has not only tried to stop Indians from watching the programme, but also called it a “propaganda piece”.


This is intriguing. Is the BBC running some propaganda campaign against Modi? What is this propaganda? Pro Indian democracy and secularism. The programme includes interviews with people like Swapan Dasgupta, a former journalist who contested elections on a BJP ticket and is a vociferous admirer of Modi and a defender of the RSS’s non-democratic views including Hindutva.

India is high up on the list of countries which shuts down the internet when it does not suit the government. We sit on this list with dictatorships. And yet, our best-known journalists say nothing when Modi and his ilk call India the “mother of democracy”.

Given this situation, we can only hang on to our shreds of dignity and democracy, and hope against hope this attempt to muzzle the freedom of the press in India will fail.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.


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