We're Live Bangla Thursday, March 23, 2023

Indian media concerns


Ever since he took off his lapel mike during a controversial tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, and walked away from a grilling TV interview with Indian anchor Karan Thapar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shunned media scrutiny. Mr Thapar wanted to know if the prime minister would consider apologising for the horrific pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat that took place under his watch in 2002. Modi parried the question and stalled further damage with two approaches to keep the media at bay. He has refused to hold a single press conference even though he heads the world’s largest democracy, inflicting his unusually ill-informed ideas on a captive audience through one-way radio monologues. And he unleashed every coercive agency at his command to tame unrelenting critics. Rana Ayyub has been one of the victims, facing the music as a doggedly investigative woman journalist who has challenged the misogynistic march of Hindutva that the prime minister is leading. It is no secret that women journalists have to face a tougher challenge from Hindutva that thrives on sexual innuendos and dire threats of bodily harm.

Ms Ayyub’s daring investigation into the state-backed violence against helpless men and women was published as the ‘Gujarat Files’. Her exposé helped land the current home minister and Mr Modi’s closest aide in jail. She also exposed the murder of a minister in Mr Modi’s cabinet, apparently because he knew too much about how the pogroms were given the green light allegedly by the chief minister himself. A senior police officer that approached the Indian supreme court with evidence corroborating Ms Ayyub’s claim is in jail. Ms Ayyub herself has been accused of misappropriating money she collected for the poorest victims of Covid-19, a charge she has robustly denied. Her struggle is part of a larger fight by an independent media to retrieve the freedoms and spaces stolen in the name of national interest. The Indian government like other autocracies is accused of using Israeli spyware to rein in the media. Several public intellectuals are lodged in prisons, robbed of their rights with the help of the software that doctored their laptops. With the Indian media under assault, foreign journalists and UN bodies have stepped in to help. “Had it not been for the international media, I was left to battle this fight for dignity alone,” says Ms Ayyub. “This is what solidarity and journalism of courage truly means.”