Muckrakers from India painted a vivid picture for their regional and global colleagues at the Uncovering Asia conference in Seoul of what it’s like to work in a country ranked 138th out of 180 in press freedom.
“The market in India is flooded with publications, nevertheless criticizing the government stays difficult and leads to a loss of editors and investors,” said NDTV managing editor Sreenivasan Jain. “The reason is pressure from the BJP to qualify every opinion that doesn’t align with their Hindu-nationalist program publicly as ‘anti-Indian,'” he said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power in 2014.
“On Facebook and Twitter you get trolled very easily. That happened to me while I was doing a critical story on the alliance of the [Telugu Desam Party] and the Congress in Andhra Pradesh,” said Sudhakar Reddy Udumula, a journalist from Hyderabad. “Even though I published a well-researched, fact-based article, all the right-wing groups attacked me. They attack you based on your personal identity. The caste system is still deep-seated in the Indian mindset. As a journalist, overall as a critical journalist, you can get judged based on being part of a lower cast. People are getting creative and they even call some journalists ‘presstitutes’ as a wordplay on ‘prostitutes.’”
“They want to break us”
“The main problem in Indian media landscape are the dependencies. The companies behind the newspapers and TV operate, for example, in real estate or in mining. Being on bad terms with the government could cause them dangerous financial damage,” said Vinod Jose, executive editor of The Caravan in New Delhi. “The newspaper where I work … is independent and has no further involvement into other businesses. In that way, we can’t be threatened so easily; the (media house which publishes) Caravan has been in exisitance for 80 years now. Yet they want to break us because we are reporting critically on Narendra Modi and his government. In 2015, we lost a lot of customers [and] advertising in our journal because we were reporting on Arun Jaitley, the current finance minister, and his implications in the banking sector. I don’t see any positive development within Indian politics. It gets worse and worse every day.”
Maike Hansen is a researcher at the University of Saarland in Germany in the comparative literature department. She is a fellow with Konrad Adenauer Foundation journalism academy.