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Threats To Life, Defamation Cases, Political Pressure – Weapons To Silence Media And Journalists Fighting For Truth & Exposing Scams; Will The Indian Judiciary Please Stand Up?

Would any numerous scams, frauds, political scandals and such be ever exposed in India if not for the media and journalists who search, find and tell the myriad issues that plague our country?

The media in this country has taken a long, challenging journey from restrictive media coverage and divulsion of information (Doordarshan days) to the explosion it saw in the form of media houses where every piece of information is discussed in much detail.

There is also a different story and a unique personal journey that a journalist from print media and now the more in-trend media houses have undertaken.

The media and journalistic aptitude saw its biggest boom in the 1990s and has come a long way to where it is now in 2022.

However, while there was much-needed positive churn early on, sadly, in 2022, the media is in the worst shape it has ever been.

And this is a common sentiment shared by most journalists today, describing how things have become increasingly morbid as they struggle with political pressure, defamation suits, attacks, threats and even self-censorship pertaining to journalistic reporting and freedom to report. 

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As per the journalists, the environment has become treacherous and full of risks, both personal and professional. The atmosphere in which they are operating is only said to get murkier. 

Journalism A Tough Solitary Battle

Journalism has become a solitary battle, opine the majority of journalists in the country. They have been fighting this war for many years, and such is the state of affairs now that press freedom is at stake. 

Since they find that there is shrinking respect for press freedom across societies in India. This state has left journalists with little room and nowhere to find support. 

Journalist’s Lives At Stake

The unruliness that prevails in the country today has led many journalists that have the guts to report a particular truth to be faced with – harassment, threats of legal action, imprisonment, or even being killed in retaliation for their reporting. 

Remember how Arnab Goswami from Republic was arrested unmercifully when he dared to speak about a particular state’s government, irrespective of whether you agreed with him? This is an excellent and straightforward example of how and what can happen to journalists who dare to cross the line. 

Another example is that of another senior journalist who was one of the several journalists who received death threats after the murder of Gauri Lankesh last year, a prominent left-wing journalist in Bangalore. 

According to many, the current state is “an undeclared emergency,” comparable to the 1970s when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi censored newspapers to consolidate power.

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Current Central Government Controlling Media and Press

There are also talks of how the media and the press under the current government are much more controlled than by previous governments, which may surprise many. 

Several journalists fearing reprimand had repercussions have revealed anonymously that there have been several incidences of party loyalists harassing journalists and also cases of business owners or police filing legal defamation complaints against the press. 

What’s more further investigations have revealed that journalists claim that while it is not new for governments or political figures to make phone calls in the quest to try to stop the press from covering specific stories, these calls are becoming increasingly more frequent. 

This state of affairs is particularly alarming and does not point in the correct direction. 

Biased Media Corporations

The current event of Adani Group taking over NDTV has also led many to open a can of worms. 

When corporate houses like the Adanis NDTV and Ambani, who, as we all know, have proximity to the current government, start owning media and press, we have a much larger devious issue at hand. 

This trend could even find footing on solid ground as new governments come into power as they would also encourage corporate houses or industrialists favoured by them to follow suit.

What will end up transpiring is that unfavourable news, or any journalism that is in opposition to the current party in power, would only want that news bits to be reported in and by media that show them in a positive light; you can imagine the consequences if such were to happen.

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Increasing Revenue By Holding A Media Circus

Another worrying trend that has made media corporations vulnerable is a focus by some prominent newsgroups on amassing revenue by hosting events and summits. 

There’s an unspoken agreement with sponsors that if you get politicians to attend, the weight of the event increases; the government has used it successfully to get softer coverage and enhance their importance in the eyes of citizens. 

 

Defamation Cases And Gag Orders

Publishers and editors are increasingly under pressure and unwilling to take on the powers in Delhi and state governments.

Recently, when one news website posted some actual facts about a particular hospitality and travel major, it found itself dragged to court on defamation charges. Since the company is looking to come out with its IPO, it found that several articles revealing truths and facts about the company and informing the would-be retail investors of the company of the underhand dealings would hamper its market debut.

To this date, the news website founder and the owner has to make appearances in court as and when summoned. 

Hence, an increasing climate of fear and self-censorship is being imposed on media channels and the press such that the facts remain hidden and do not come to light. 

“I don’t remember ever having experienced before…perhaps not even during the emergency in the 70s…and certainly no journalists were being killed with impunity then as they are being now,” a senior journalist, who requested anonymity, said.

Local journalists also raised the issue of high-profile reporters and editors who cover sensitive topics being fired. While the employers in these cases deny the dismissals are connected to coverage, it has created the impression among local journalists that they could be fired for not toeing the line.

Many dismissals appeared to be because of political reasons or pressure on business owners.

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A significant contributor to self-censorship is the threat of defamation lawsuits.

Last year, when a news website reported on a sudden rise in revenues in a company owned by Jay Shah, the son of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president after Modi became president, Jay Shah filed a criminal defamation lawsuit, and the judiciary imposed a gag order, according to reports.

Many journalists agree that fighting defamation suits is a long, slow, lonely battle; one ends up losing friends, the government is watching, and media houses have funding and job worries.

Any investigative work on the criminality of politicians or data that busts government claims is unacceptable; the suits are strategic–by filing defamation suits, the subject matter immediately becomes sub judice, meaning that outlets are not allowed to continue reporting, and the story becomes buried.

The result is that defamation cases have made media houses more careful.

Conclusion: The harsh reality is that as more ground is covered in and by social media, unfortunately for journalists, media houses and press countrywide are finding themselves and their job stifled.

It is not easy to carry the light of truth if met with solid resistance and open threats by those in power and also business corporates and industrialists who have enough money, influence and power to crush and story and pay to bring out news bits that are purely favourable for them and their businesses. 

 

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