MODI’S ATTEMPT TO GAG CORONA DATA OFFSET BY SUPREME COURT
At a time when the international media has been unfailingly scrutinising the role of their respective governments in fighting the dreaded coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been contemplating to completely gag the “fourth pillar of democracy” and to accomplish this task, approached the Supreme Court, in a manner of speaking.
Though the apex court has refused to comply with the request of the Modi government, it nevertheless directed media outlets to “refer to and publish the official version” about COVID-19 developments, in the spirit of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act of 2005. The fact of the matter is the Indian media anyway publishes and publicizes the government version, barring some big newspapers which have been using the copies of their staffers.
There is nothing new or innovative in this order, but unfortunately the Modi government has been using this order to bully the media, particularly the newspapers published from the states or districts, which are entirely dependent on government support for their survival.
If the government clarification is to be believed, the primary reason for it approaching the apex court was to contain the fake or inaccurate reporting and news. The government tried to justify its request for the blanket order by claiming that “fake or inaccurate” reporting could cause panic in the country. It had also proposed for setting up a “separate mechanism” for clearance of any coverage on the pandemic.
That Narendra Modi would resort to such action has become clear after his call for beating thali and tali and lighting diya and lantern proved to be a mere farce and came under severe criticism for promoting superstition. These events even proved to be counterproductive in his move for image makeover. He had to face ridicule throughout the world for his self-promotion during this period of crisis.
With 90 per cent of the media dancing to his tune and keen to oblige him by carrying out his dictats, it is the remaining 10 per cent, that too comprising of small and medium media outlets, that has been the major irritant for Modi and his government. It was for gaging the residues that the Modi government planned to enforce censorship. Nothing could explain it better than the government’s move that Modi and his government have been intolerant and arrogant.
It is not that the 90 per cent media are puritans and strictly adhere to the ethics and normative guidelines and rules of journalism. Their role in covering the Coronavirus and its fall out on the lives of the poor migrant labourers has been most deplorable. At least two incidents are sufficient to expose their nefarious designs; first, their tirade against Tablighi Jamaat Markaz and second, their coverage of the reverse migration of the poor.
Of course, any rational thinking person would condemn the action of the Maulana of Tabliqhi Markaz in organising the congregation. He should have cancelled the meet once the Corona raised its ugly head in India. But the most disgraceful development has been design of the activists and intellectuals of Sangh to smear black the face and image of Indian Muslims without thinking of the final consequences. All kinds of nasty attempt are being made to hound and demonise the Muslim community. Sangh’s network has been so competent and swift that Hindus living in Hyderabad and in Patna speak the same language; Muslims have spread corona. The editors and anchors of the media and TV channels competed to use this simple incident to malign the entire Muslim community as anti-national.
Through their vilification campaign they have befuddled the common people to such an extent that Muslims are being blamed for India getting inflicted of Corona. It is irony that educated middle class people are the worst critic. An insight into this tirade will unravel the economic aspect of the criticism rather than social or political reason.
The coverage of the plight of the migrants reflected the mind-set of the editors and anchors. Instead of criticising the Modi government for lack of imagination in ordering the lockdown, they blamed the poor poverty ridden labourers. They even expressed apprehensions that these people will spread corona through their close interaction and by not following the concept of social distancing. Since these people claim to be the conscience keeper of the government they should have told Modi that he was committing wrong by announcing instant lockdown. Instead he should have given some time to reach them to safe places. The government even did not bother to think over the new element of reverse migration which would harm the business, trade and industry in such a manner that it would take years for them come out of the shock. Since most of the BJP leaders claim of a farmer background they could have envisaged what would happen to the farming activities and agriculture once the labourers return to their native places. They should also have tried to delink and differentiate two incidents; the demonetisation and migration in the wake of corona.
In the case of former the big famers were left with some money to sustain, but corona has completely ruined the financial condition. Economic condition is heading to a bind. Even the labourers return by July, it would not be feasible to streamline the agricultural activities.
Astonishingly, the government did not initiate any action against these actions of the media. It could have summoned the editors and discussed the issue with them; how the crisis could be met. Shockingly the BJP and RSS leaders enjoyed and ravished the media onslaught and communal hatred perpetrated by them.
Modi government must refrain from trying to censor news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its proactive move simply reminds of the Emergency days; what a similarity. Indira Gandhi ensured no media pointed out her follies and failures; same has been intention behind the latest move of the Modi government; conceal the failures.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has rightly urged the Indian government not to victimise the journalists. It said; “Journalists are providing an essential service by informing the public during this national emergency and should be allowed to do their work unimpeded. The Indian government should focus its efforts on containing the virus, not on containing vital news reporting.” The main question staring at the media has been; “is media under obligation to carry junk and anti-people news thrust upon them by the authorities”.
Strange enough the government intended to impose censure even though it has already invoked the Disaster Management Act on March 11, which makes the “act of creating panic” a criminal offense. According to this law, any false claim or warning is punishable with up to two years imprisonment and a fine, or both. The government has also invoked the colonial-era Epidemic Diseases Act under which the punishment for spreading misleading information is up to six months in jail, a fine of 1,000.
On March 24 hours before he announced a national lockdown to control the spread of the Corona, Modi at a meeting had asked editors and owners of more than 20 news outlets to refrain from any negative coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in a private meeting. He had emphasized on the importance of tackling the “spread of pessimism, negativity and rumour mongering.” But shockingly the same editors and owners indulged in the worst kind of Muslim bashing after Markaj incident. Since the announcement of the national lockdown in India, CPJ has documented at least three cases where journalists’ movements were restricted and they were physically assaulted.