The Narendra Modi government is committed towards the freedom of press and strongly opposes those who throttle it, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Monday.
“Our media fraternity is working tirelessly towards strengthening the foundations of our great nation,” Shah said in a tweet. He also praised the media for its role during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
His statement came on the occasion of National Press Freedom Day, celebrated every year on November 16, to commemorate the establishment of the Press Council of India (PCI) in 1966.
“[The] Modi government is committed towards the freedom of press and strongly oppose those who throttle it,” the home minister said. “I applaud [the] media’s remarkable role during Covid-19.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also lauded the media on the occasion, saying that journalists have been doing an exceptional service by spreading awareness about the coronavirus. “The media has acted as a valuable stakeholder in helping the government in its initiatives,” PTI quoted him as saying.
“Be it positive criticism or highlighting success stories, the media has been continuously adding strength to India’s democratic ethos,” Modi said.
He was giving a speech for a webinar organised by the Press Council of India.
“From creating mass awareness about important issues to contributing to a behavioural change in society for the larger good, we have seen how the media as a valued stakeholder has furthered the efforts of the government,” he said.
In the webinar by PCI, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said that a free press was the cornerstone of democracy.
“Freedom of press is very important but any freedom comes with responsibility. So, there has to be a responsible freedom and no sensationalism by the press,” Javadekar said.
“The news should not be to deliberately defame anyone. The way freedom of press is being attacked these days is not good.”
Javadekar also said that a committee, created to look into the manipulation of Television Rating Points by some news channels, will submit a report “very soon”.
The Home Minister’s tall claim about his party’s government upholding media freedom comes at a time when it has come under heavy criticism for crushing dissent and targeting journalists who are critical of it.
Many international press associations have accused Modi of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to silence its critics.
According to a report by Rights and Risks Analysis Group, 55 journalists were targeted for covering the pandemic in India between March 25 – when the lockdown was first imposed – and May 31.
There has also been an increase in the number of journalists being charged for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, with up to three years to life in prison. The most recent example of this being Kerala-based journalist, Siddique Kappan, who was arrested while he was trying to reach the family of a rape victim in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh.
Prashant Kanojia, an independent journalist, has been arrested twice in the past year on ‘sedition’ tweets by Uttar Pradesh.
Besides, the digital gag and internet shutdown imposed in Jammu and Kashmir have attracted intense criticism against the Centre from many circles. Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) downgraded India’s ratings on the Press Freedom Index, saying that its score was influenced by its actions in Kashmir.
On October 28, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided the offices of daily Greater Kashmir as well as AFP’s Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari on allegations of funding secessionist groups.
Before that, many Kashmiri journalists were summoned or even booked on frivolous charges.