Modi and the Media

In his first 100 days…

1. Prominent journalists were pressured to avoid criticizing the government.

Even during the run-up to the elections there were several instances of senior journalists being coerced by media owners to restrain their critical reporting on Modi, resulting in multiple firings and resignations. Siddharth Varadarajan resigned from his senior editing position at The Hindu after refusing to submit to demands by paper owners to place then prime minister candidate Modi on the front cover in October 2013.  Varadarajan posted on Facebook that “four thugs” attacked his apartment’s caretaker leaving this message “Tell your sahib (boss) to watch what he says on TV.” Varadarajan’s wife also reported threats. Political analyst Thiru Veerapandian’s prime-time debate show “Vibhada Medhai” was canceled following a 17-year run shortly after Veerapandian offered cautionary warnings about voting for Modi at a public event in late 2013. Also in late 2013, journalist and editor Hartosh Singh Bal was reported to have been fired by his employer “Open” magazine as a result of publishing a critical piece on Modi. Sagarika Ghose, host of “Face the Nation” on CNN-IBN and deputy editor of the English-language news channel was strongly instructed from Network 18 channel’s owner to refrain from posting tweets that might be critical of Modi just after the mass media company was acquired by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (with known ties to Modi) at the end of May 2014. Ghose, along with editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai both quit Network 18 in refusal to compromise integrity and autonomy. The same management pressured Nikhil Wagle, editor of IBN Lokmat, Network 18’s Marathi-language channel, to also abstain from posting critical comments about Modi.  In July 2014, the newspaper DNA removed an article from its website by Rana Ayyub because it was critical of Modi’s appointment of Amit Shah to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party, specifying murder charges and other crimes for which Shah is still on trial. (For more on Amit Shah see Human Rights section of this report.) Further reports of journalists being asked to muffle anti-Modi stories on the one hand, and cutting to live Modi speeches are becoming common place.

2. Media denied access by Modi.

As a candidate, Modi spared few opportunities to appear on television in an unprecedented re-branding effort to recast himself as a “man of the people.” However, since his election Modi has been far more selective in his interactions with the media, insulating himself and his administration increasingly from media scrutiny, aided in no small part by an increasingly pliant corporate media that is foreclosing critique of the Modi administration. In an unprecedented move Modi declined employing a media advisor and instead has appointed an aide as a Public Relations officer. In addition, Modi has ordered his ministers to avoid speaking directly to the media unless required to amplify an official position expressed by the Prime Minister (PM); behind closed doors his authoritarian style of governance is being reported to ruffle feathers. In a sharp break from conventions governing diplomatic trips, Modi declined to invite journalists to accompany him to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in July, overturning a long-standing practice followed by previous prime ministers. Such changes do not bode well for India as they insulate the PM and his cabinet from the sort of media access and scrutiny required in any healthy democracy.

Previously, in Gujarat…

1. Targeting journalists

2. Curbing media

  • In late 2002, responding to a reporter’s question regarding the insecurity experienced by Muslims in the state, Modi lambasted the media for its coverage, publicly threatening the reporter with: “People like you should apologise to the 5 crore (50 million) Gujaratis for asking such questions. Have you not learnt your lesson? If you continue like this, you will have to pay the price.”  During the same interview, senior journalists had to climb out of windows to escape the violent mobs gathered outside the building in support of Modi.
  • As the atrocities committed by RSS-led mobs mounted in early March 2002, Modi banned the telecast of Star News because it refused to comply with the Gujarat government’s demand that all media refrain from naming the religious identity of Muslim victims of the genocide.
  • Leading Gujarati newspapers such as Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar served as bullhorns for the RSS led massacres of Muslims, going so far as to even defend and incite further violence. In late March 2002, Modi congratulated the heads of Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar among others for their “restrained” coverage of the violence.

Read more…

  1. “Cong Accuses Modi of Muzzling Press Freedom as CM | Business Standard News.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  2. “Congress Targets Narendra Modi over Press Freedom | Zee News.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  3. “India’s Press Under Siege –” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  4. “Kapil Sibal Targets Narendra Modi over Press Freedom, Poll Code Violation : Highlights, News – India Today.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  5. “Modi Curbed Media Freedom in Gujarat: Manish Tewari – Firstpost.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  6. “Modi’s Rise Does Not Bode Well for Indian Press Freedom – Committee to Protect Journalists.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  7. “No Journalists, Please: Narendra Modi’s ‘No Media’ Policy May Prove to Be a Mistake – Firstpost.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  8. “PM Modi Forces Government Into A Silent Zone.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  9. “Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose Quit Network18 – Livemint.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  10. “Rajdeep Sardesai’s Farewell Letter to His Staff – The Times of India.” Accessed September 18, 2014.
  11. “Worrisome Curbs on Free Speech Emerge since Modi’s Election – Committee to Protect Journalists.” Accessed September 18, 2014.