Why You Must Oppose the Government’s Plan to Control Online News

On World Press Freedom Day, 7 reasons you must insist and fight for a free press.

3 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Ibrahim

At a time when a section of the mainstream media is happy to conform to the official narrative, contort the truth or simply look away, it is the online news space that’s filling the void – emerging time and again as the voice of reason and fact.

It is the online media that helps separate the truth from lies, the truth from white lies and the truth from malicious, manufactured and biased propaganda that masquerades as news.

And there’s proof that The Quint and other players in this space are doing something right. After failing to pass an order that would punish journalists who report fake news, the Smriti Irani-led Information and Broadcasting Ministry has trained its guns on digital media. A committee has been formed to frame rules that will regulate news portals. There’s more, this committee has no representation from the digital media – the very space they intend to regulate!

Basically, after making some leading newspapers and TV channels bend and crawl, the government wants to tell digital news portals what they can and cannot talk about. In response to the proposal, over 100 journalists and digital media players have written to the ministry, warning that the proposed move will hamper the democratic medium.

Why Should You Care?

Actually, there are at least seven good reasons why you must care.

1. The Judge Loya Expose
Thanks to The Caravan magazine’s online edition, we know that Judge Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Shaikh fake encounter case – in which Amit Shah was, at one point, an accused – may not have died of natural causes. A series of investigative reports asked some pertinent questions that the mainstream media failed to talk about. It took a PIL for a CBI probe, a rebellion by four SC judges and finally a motion to impeach the Chief Justice of India by the Congress, to get the mainstream media talking about Judge Loya.

2. Jay Shah & Piyush Goyal
‘The Wire’ first raised the issue of conflict of interest with regard to a firm owned by Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah. What followed was a defamation suit against the journalist and the publishers. The news portal also questioned the conduct of erstwhile firms of Union Minister Piyush Goyal. What followed was a threat to file a defamation suit and a media blitzkrieg on Mr Goyal’s ministry’s success in electrifying India.

3. The Kathua Gangrape
For at least a week before national newspapers and TV channels reported the gruesome details of the chargesheet filed in the Kathua case, ‘The Print’ and Scroll were publishing regular updates on the gangrape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Jammu. The mainstream media had to catch up.

4. The Moral Police in Kerala
Apart from staying ahead of the curve while reporting on Jayalalithaa’s illness, The News Minute was also the first to highlight the story of two school students who were suspended for hugging after a performance on stage. TV debates followed only after the case reached the high court.

And at the cost of some shameless self-promotion...

5. The Exposé on Electoral Bonds

The government introduced electoral bonds with a promise to introduce clean money into the political system. Anonymously, of course. But The Quint’s investigation proved how political donations through electoral bonds were neither necessarily clean, and definitely not anonymous.

6. The Paid News Sting
In March 2018, Cobrapost released ‘Operation 136', a sting operation that exposed how some leading Indian news channels, newspapers and web portals were willing to propagate a Hindutva agenda in exchange for money.

7. Data and Fact Checking
In an age of “alternative facts”, websites like Boom Live and Alt News are at the forefront of busing false claims and fake news – spread in some cases by politicians and in other cases, websites with clear political/ideological leanings.

The next time you hear about the government wanting to regulate the media, take a stand for free press.

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