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The Problem With Modi’s #WorldPressFreedomDay Tweet

India is turning increasingly dangerous for journalists under the PM’s watch.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday pitched for freedom of the press. The ground reality, however, marks a stark difference. On one hand, Modi’s ministers call journalists “presstitutes”, while on the other hand, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters troll reporters for stories highlighting the wrongdoings of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

“A free press makes a stronger democracy! Today on #WorldPressFreedomDay, let us reaffirm our commitment towards steadfastly supporting a free press. It is the multiplicity of ideas and human expression that makes us more vibrant as a society,” he tweeted.

In a series of tweets, Modi applauded all who have been working towards upholding freedom of the press.

“It is due to these countless women and men that the spirit of a free press is significantly enhanced…would once again like to appreciate the proactive role of everyone on social media for their commendable work towards safeguarding the freedom of press and expression,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

However, a peek into the past tells us his tweets don’t accurately reflect the suppression of the free press that has taken place under his regime.

In fact, on the same day that Modi championed freedom of the press, a photojournalist and a reporter–Faud Sanea and Shahabas Aman– working with a Malayalam daily were injured when some RSS workers stormed a press club and allegedly attacked them in Kerala.

In a recent incident, renowned journalist and author of Gujarat Files Rana Ayyub was alerted that a Twitter handle, which mimicked the handle of a prominent TV channel, attributed a comment to her that she never made. “Minor child rapists are also human, do they have no human rights. This Hindutva Government is bringing ordinance for death to child rapists just to hang Muslims in larger numbers. Muslims aren’t safe in India anymore,” the handle quoted her as saying.

The tweet with Ayyub’s fake comment went viral, and she was trolled by right-wing activists who went to the extent of sending her three-minute long pornographic videos of her face morphed onto bodies of naked women in her Facebook inbox and via Twitter. Trolls then took to social media to tell her to “leave journalism because prostitution is your cup of tea”.

According to Huffington Post, 2017 was a terrible year for freedom of the press in India. In a blog that appeared in January this year, it said as of 2017, India ranked 136 on the World Press Freedom Index, slipping 3 points from the year before. The Indian correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists noted that, “If ever there was a worst year for press freedom in India, 2017 would be it.

In another report titled “India Freedom Report: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017”, The Hoot confirmed 2017 was horrific for journalists, including photographers and stringers. 11 journalists were murdered, three for their work, 46 cases of attacks and 27 cases of police action, including arrest and cases were filed.

The gruesome murder of Gauri Lankesh, editor of the weekly Lankesh Patrike –  a magazine that has been described as an “anti-establishment” publication – who was shot dead at her residence in Bengaluru in September 2016, came as a shock to the nation.

According to The Wire, two Tripura journalists were also killed. Santanu Bhowmick was killed reporting clashes between two rival tribal associations and Sudip Datta Bhaumik, a senior journalist, was shot dead by a Tripura State Rifles trooper during an altercation in Bodhjung Nagar in the State.

In June 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided offices and homes of NDTV founder Prannoy Roy over allegations of defrauding a bank. According to The Diplomat, NDTV had been critical of the current government. The allegations were of a bank fraud but it is believed the move was an attempt to punish the media company for its anti-government stand.

Ashok Swain, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, called out Modi for labelling the press as “news traders”. In an article for DailyO, he also noted that Modi’s ministers have given journalists the vulgar epithet of “presstitutes”.

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