Indian media under BJP government – not a pretty picture 

Dr Kiran Hassan

On 14 July 2022 the Institute of Commonwealth Studies hosted an event on media and democracy in India, with two leading voices on Indian politics.  Mr Karan Thapar, a world-renowned journalist, editor and interviewer, and Professor James Manor expressed their deep concerns about the current government in India. Mr Thapar identified four emerging trends that have been visible in Indian politics in the past eight years: 1) the authoritarian nature of the current Indian regime; 2) the Indian government’s deliberate and consistent nurturing of Hindu majoritarianism while simultaneously dehumanising Indian Muslims; 3) a weakened judiciary and ; 4) the silencing of critical voices and media by the present BJP government.

The appalling state of media in India was pointed out by Professor Manor, seen in India’s marked decline in the global index of press freedom in recent years. Quoting from Reporters without Borders, he said that India is current ranking 150 out of 180 countries - a very disturbing picture for a country where independent media has historically flourished. He also expressed concern for the way in which the Indian Government had ensured the sacking of editor Ruben Banerjee for his critical reporting.

Agreeing with Professor Manor, Mr Thapar said that there were multiple ways in which the current government intimidates the press. Editor Rubina Banerjee’s case was straightforward: the government contacted the proprietor and asked them to sack the editor. But there are other subtle and insidious ways in which the ruling political party puts pressure on journalists and media groups.

According to Mr Thapar, the Indian government has the biggest advertisement budgets. If a channel or a media group is not in line with the government, then advertising revenues are docked; secondly, the ruling ministers of the sitting government boycott the programme, channel or anchor if they feel any of these platforms are criticising the government, thirdly, fear is instilled in individual journalists if they decide to cover a story which does not favour the government. Often calls are received from the ruling party, sometimes even at ministerial level, pre-warning the journalists/ proprietors of consequences if the Indian government is criticised; fourthly, sedition charges are placed on journalists for alleged non-factual tweets.

Professor Manor expressed concerns regarding the misuse of multiple investigative agencies who mount raids on journalists, people in civil society, and political opposition leaders who hold independent views and are unhappy by the Indian government., Mr Thapar agreed, commenting that such practices by the Indian government are a weapon to threaten, bring into line and corral people to the government’s way of thinking.

Both speakers concurred the current disarray of the Congress Party (BJP’s biggest political opposition party) before India’s next general elections. Dynastic Gandhian leadership and Rahul Gandhi’s perceived naïve persona by the Indian public were the reasons for which the Congress’ prospects of a political comeback are bleak. Through deep pockets and media strategies, BJP seemingly remains resilient for the next general elections in India.

Karan said that since the BJP government is very keen to be seen positively by the outside world, global platforms such as the Commonwealth must politely yet forcefully and continuously bring up the issue of Muslims facing ill treatment from the Indian government. Indeed, India offers an attractive market to the West and is thought to be a countervailing partner in curtailing Chinese influence. However, modern democracies share values of human rights and freedom of expression which the current government in India is violating while unlawfully targeting Muslims (This is also contrary to the Commonwealth Charter)

The video of the whole event can be seen below.
Speakers’ Biographies:

Karan Thapar is one of India’s most distinguished journalists, especially well known for his hard and incisive interviewing style. He has worked for The TimesLondon Weekend Televisionthe BBC, Hindustan Times, and run his own production house. In 2009 he was conferred the Ram Nath Goenka Award for excellence in journalism. His current show, The Interview with Karan Thapar appears on The Wire.
Prof. James Manor is Emeka Anyaoku Professor Emeritus of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and one of the world’s foremost experts on India.