New Delhi: The Modi government has “resorted to various tactics” to prevent independent media from criticising it and reporting about the coronavirus pandemic, the International Press Institute (IPI) has said in a statement released Friday.
The statement cites multiple cases of police registering cases against journalists in the last few weeks for their news reports.
The IPI is a global network of editors, media executives and journalists for press freedom.
The group, in its statement, has taken cognisance of journalist Dhaval Patel being charged with sedition for writing an article about Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani being possibly replaced by the BJP high command, due to criticism over increasing number of coronavirus cases in the state.
Patel published this news report in ‘Face of Nation’, a Gujarat-based news portal he is the editor of.
The statement also takes note of a reporter from The Indian Express, Mahender Singh Manral, being summoned by the Delhi police on 10 May for a report stating that police investigations found the possibility of the audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader Maulana Saad being doctored.
The IPI has expressed “grave concern over the misuse of the law by authorities in India to intimidate journalists and curtail press freedom”.
‘Govt has no tolerance’
The IPI also quotes the statement issued by the Editors Guild of India against these charges being slapped on journalists.
“The Editors Guild of India condemned the police actions and urged the governments to stop using legal tools to harass the press. It described the case against Patel as a misuse of the Indian Penal Code and special laws relating to disaster management,” the IPI said.
The Editors Guild, in its statement issued Wednesday, had said that there is “a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists” in different parts of the country, which is “deeply disturbing”.
The statement also cites a Newslaundry report stating that the Himachal Pradesh police registered 10 FIRs against six journalists for reporting on “government failures” during the lockdown.
“The rapid decline in India’s press freedom is alarming”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad has said in the statement.
“A democracy like India can only thrive if media pluralism is allowed to flourish, but the government appears to have no tolerance for criticism and fears objective, independent journalism.”
The statement criticises a petition filed by the Modi government on 31 March urging the Supreme court to bar the media from publishing Covid-19 related news that hasn’t been confirmed by the government — a petition turned down by the court.
“In a blatant attempt to stifle press freedom, on March 31 the government unsuccessfully petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to bar the media from publishing information about COVID-19 that had not been cleared by the government. The court refused to intervene but directed the media to “refer to and publish” the official version of the developments,” the statement said.