The Indian media continues to experience more curbs as the Narendra Modi government gradually tightens rules to force it to toe the line, sparking protest from the Editors Guild of India (EGI) which termed new rules an attempt to “undermine freedom of the press in the country.”
The guild in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged to revoke the Information Technology Rules 2021, and said the new digital media rules and the three-tier mechanism to enforce the code of ethics were “regressive” and would be “adverse to the freedom of the press.”
“We are deeply concerned about the notification of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The Rules, issued under the Information Technology Act, 2000, have the potential of fundamentally altering how publishers of news operate over the Internet and undermine freedom of the press in the country,” a letter dated March 6 reads.
Various other provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large. The Editors Guild pointed out that these rules have been brought in without any consultation with the stakeholders and “deepen the worry that freedom of the press in India is being seriously compromised.”
“Given your public commitment towards protecting freedom of speech and expression in India, we urge your urgent intervention in revoking these rules and for facilitating meaningful consultations with all stakeholders for a constructive approach, which is in line with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.”
The Editors Guild of India sought time from the Prime Minister to discuss the issues. The guild had earlier raised their concerns with the Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar and Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The Indian government on 25 February 2021 announced the Information Technology (Intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics codes) Rules 2021 under the Information and Technology Act, 2000.
Part III of the Rules mandate that digital news media establish a self-regulating mechanism to resolve grievances raised by any person and empowers the government to delete, modify and block content published by digital news media, the Guild pointed.
“We are conscious of the challenges posed by the digital age, and as such, we recognize the need for self-regulation Of digital news media. However, we have grave concerns regarding the rules, which can fundamentally alter how news publishers operate over the Internet and undermine the freedom of the press in the country,” the EGI said in a recent letter to Prime Minister Modi according to Press Trust of India.
Since the Modi government came into power, it has launched a new offensive against the media to silence dissent and those daring to challenge BJP’s agenda. Since 2020, attacks on independent media have surged with arrests, terror and sedition cases against journalists and media organizations.
The BJP-RSS backer right-wing groups as a routine issue “rape and death threats” and discredits those who gave any narrative against BJP narrative.
The media in Kashmir particularly raised their voice over the tactics employed by the Narendra Modi government of controlling them by lodging fake criminal cases, besides levelling charges of sedition and terrorism.
Almost 154 Indian journalists were arrested or faced government intimidation for their professional work between 2010 and 2020. Of the total number, over 40% were victimised in the year 2020 alone, an analysis by the Free Speech Collective, an advocacy group, said.
Various international Press bodies have pointed out that Press freedom in India was declining amidst a steady increase in sedition charges against the journalists, and has vowed to put up a tough fight.
The media workers complain that the Indian government was filing draconian cases against publications that question its decisions; while the RSS supporters threaten outlets and individual reporters. In just over five years under Modi’s administration, India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis.
“There have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials,” it said.
The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) – Reporters Without Borders, said “Journalists in India have been beaten, arrested, and forced to resign for trying to report news about the government or other contentious issues.”