Posts Tagged ‘Sevanti Ninan’

Media oppression in India and elsewhere is a shifting landscape

June 29, 2020

In “Media oppression is a shifting landscape” by Sevanti Ninan (a media commentator and founder-editor of TheHoot.org) published on 29 June 2020 in the Indian Telegraph you wil find a good analysis of the problems of news gathering in the current situation. It is about India but the analysis would be valid for many countries.

Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed. Fake news is no longer seen only as an electronic menace but as reporting with malign intent, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere.
Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed. Fake news is no longer seen only as an electronic menace but as reporting with malign intent, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere. Pexels

For some years now, the growing challenge to journalism has come from the increasing use of predictable laws (think of sedition and criminal defamation in the Indian Penal Code)….but media oppression is a shifting landscape. Tracking its changing features is just the first challenge. While the onset of Covid-19 has led to the government putting hitherto under-used laws to work, such as the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act, these have been used in tandem with Sections of the IPC to criminalize reporting of the government’s response to the pandemic as well of the outcomes of its handling, such as the migrant exodus. Panicky administrations across the country have, so far, used no less than 14 Sections of the IPC and Sections of the IT Act (including the one that was struck down), the DMA, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Motor Vehicles Act and the provisions of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to issue showcause notices, lodge first information reports against reporters and arrest, confine and torture them.

If newsgathering is being criminalized in some parts of the country, it is being policed in Jammu and Kashmir… it has been gifted a 50-page media policy, which makes the government the arbiter of fake news and mandates background checks of media owners and editors if they are to receive government advertising. Charming! Who knows what will follow elsewhere in the country.

Overall then, a convergence of factors is at work. Arms of the government see journalism (of all kinds) not as a useful source of feedback at a time when the population is in distress but as a nuisance to be squashed.

Electronically disseminated fake news, until now, was in the domain of technology. But when the charge is levelled at reporting on the ground in far-flung areas of the country, it enters the domain of physical fact-finding. Busting fake news with internet tools is one thing. Doing it for field reporting is quite another.…..

..What support structures can be put in place? The country has a Press Council, a Human Rights Commission and numerous courts. But it needs a growing network of human rights defenders, a galvanizing force created by an alliance of journalist organizations, concerned lawyers and civil society stalwarts to map a strategy for this canvas. The Press Council is selective in what it takes note of; one must also ask whether its censure changes anything on the ground.

So far, the response to a sustained assault on journalism has been statements issued by media bodies themselves. But journalists need allies at a time like this; solidarity within their own ranks is not enough to put pressure on the oppressors. Just as civil society has come together to keep alive a human rights campaign for the release of Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bhardwaj and others in the Bhima Koregaon case, journalists, particularly the embattled, invisible ones the districts, now need ballast in their fight to keep up the pressure.

Precedents will be set if the misuse of laws goes unchallenged. District magistrates across states labelling reporting as fake news will be further emboldened without a pushback.

See also reent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/a-case-for-truth/cid/1784527