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EGI accuses govt of attempting to curb press freedom

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New Delhi, Aug 08 : The Editors Guild of India today decried “all attempts” by the government to “interfere” with the independence of the media, taking strong note of senior journalists of two TV channels quitting and frequent instances of broadcast signals being blocked of programmes seen to be critical of the ruling dispensation.

The Guild, in a statement, demanded suitable action against those responsible for “nefarious activities” aimed at “throttling” press freedom and urged media owners not to “cow down” to political pressure being put on them by the government or any other forces.

It demanded that the government take note of the cases of disruptions in television programme signals, investigate and explain how and under what circumstances these “egregious violations” are taking place.

The Guild, an umbrella body of media organisations, said such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and the foundations of India’s democracy.

“It (government) must also assure the nation that either directly or through any proxies or agencies it isn’t involved in this activity. And if it isn’t, these saboteurs must be brought to book. Freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with,” said the Guild.

The strong statement comes days after the managing editor and two anchors of a prominent TV channel resigned. The Congress has alleged that they quit due to pressure from the government for airing stories critical of the Modi dispensation.

Asserting that such instances were “disconcerting”, the Guild said it decries “all attempts on the part of the government to interfere in the free and independent functioning of journalists, either put under pressure directly, or through the proprietors”.

It said the past few days have seen senior journalists of at least two electronic media channels come out in the open to assert that their employers attempted to either “tailor” or “tone down” content to make it less critical of the government, leaving them with no choice but to resign.

The Guild said at least one such instance was reported formally in writing to it.

“The Editors Guild of India condemns the manner in which the right to practise free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces — some media owners’ inability to withstand covert or overt pressures from the political establishment and frequent instances of blocking or interference in the transmission of television content that is seen to be critical of the government,” it said.

The Guild said one TV channel has also shared with it screen-shots and details indicating such interference.

“Even more worrying are the recent instances where signals of television programmes critical of the government have seemingly been blocked or disrupted in a manner almost Orwellian,” it said.

“These undermine the right to be informed and to hold the establishment accountable. This seems a brazen attempt to punish ‘unfriendly’ news channels and silence inconvenient voices,” the statement said.

The Guild asserted that freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with and decried the tendency on the part of the government, and the political class in general, to use “selective denial of journalistic access” as a weapon.

“This has become worse when there are few opportunities to ask questions to those in public life or in official positions on public platforms like press conferences, which is a legitimate democratic right of journalists on behalf of all citizens.

“Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided,” the Guild said.

It also reminded media owners that institutional strength and respect is directly linked to editorial independence and undermining the former can result in curtailing the latter.

“Owners and journalists have an equally shared interest in press freedoms and in resisting pressures,” the Guild said.

On a related issue, the Guild decried the “cease and desist” notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers in an effort to block the coverage of an important defence deal.

“The company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn’t, it should be resisted. If needed, we hope the courts will weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions,” it said.