Uphold independence and freedom of press

SANSAD News-release June 8, 2017

Uphold the Independence and freedom of the Press

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) condemns the Central Bureau of Investigation raid on the offices of NDTV and the residence of its owners in and around New Delhi on June 4 as a blatant politically motivated attempt to intimidate and silence its independent and critical voice. NDTV is one of the most respected and influential media outlets in India, and one of the very few such voices left in an increasingly gloomy mediascape. The current raid is the latest of a series of episodes of harassment faced by NDTV, which the government had tried to shut down for 24 hours in 2016 as punishment for its coverage of the terrorist attack on the military base in Pathankot.

Journalism in India is in a state of acute crisis. Most of the mainstream media is owned by a small number of corporate houses whose owners are also intimately connected with the ruling BJP and the government of Narendra Modi. Indeed, NDTV too is indebted to Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India and owner of Reliance corporation, and has promoted the interests of the BJP and the multinational, Vedanta. Such corporate and political domination ensures that the media presents the official narrative of the party and the government without question and has established hyper-nationalism as hegemonic. Any dissent is branded “anti-national” , with the cry taken up by an increasingly mobilized section of the populace affiliated with the party or its various social forms who hound the culprit  on social media or attempt to silence her/him with physical violence. In addition, any media attempting to cast a critical eye on the government and its friends is  branded “Presstitute” by the ruling politicians and their supporters bringing the media into disrepute. Since Modi’s coming to power in 2014 it has become almost impossible to expose manipulated data and opaque government operations. This is the background against which the President of India recently affirmed in an important speech to journalists that discussion and dissention were essential to a vibrant democracy and public institutions had to be held accountable for all their actions and inactions.

India has 406 news channels in various languages and tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines. Yet this year it has fallen 3 places to 136th among 180 countries ranked in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, which places India below Afghanistan and United Arab Emirates. This is not surprising given the Hindu nationalist’s rampage to cleanse India of all “anti-nationalist” thought, as a result of which in 2014 at least 114 journalists were attacked, with only 32  attackers arrested, and between January 2016 and April 2017 there have been 54 attacks reported though the actual number is much higher since many attacks are unreported because of threats from politicians, police, and the vigilantes.

We, members of the South Asian diaspora in Canada stand in solidarity with the many brave people of India fighting for democracy against fascistic developments and with the courageous journalists and independent media engaged in the struggle for press freedom, which is the bedrock of all democracy.  We applaud the declaration of NDTV that it will fight all attempts to bully it. We demand that the government of India stop using the institutions of the state to attack the freedom of the press and take appropriate action against those who use violence to silence critical voices.

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