Modi makes it to rogues’ gallery in RSF Free Press Predators

Narendra Modi finds himself in an exclusive club of press predators

Politics

July 7, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Modi makes it to rogues’ gallery in RSF Free Press Predators

Modi finds himself in the list of 'Free Press Predators'

Leader of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi, finds himself in the company of some of the worst oppressors of free press in the world in a list released by RSF. Activists say the report is anything but a surprise.

In its report Free Press Predators, RSF has listed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with 26 other leaders from around the world that have stifled free press in their countries. The Paris-based global press freedom organization says Modi has been a ‘predator since taking office’, and that ‘national-populism and disinformation’ are his preferred predatory methods to maintain a strong-hold on the media.

“After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014,” states the report that goes on to say that “This insidious strategy works in two ways. On the one hand, by visibly ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticise the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels. All that is left for Modi is to neutralise the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods.”

RSF reports points out the threats looming around journalist who are critical of the establishment, “For example, journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. To round off this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as yodha (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.”

Though this isn’t the first time a foreign establishment has criticised Narendra Modi. The government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic made it to the front pages of several international newspapers, including The New York Times, that called Modi’s handling of the pandemic a ‘State-orchestrated Covid Massacre’, while also pointing out “He kicked off 2021 by declaring India had defeated Covid-19. Then came the second wave — and a record-breaking death toll.”

The Washington Post wrote about Modi’s bizarre decision for not only holding rallies during a raging pandemic but also thanking and validating the behaviour of the thousands attending his rallies. “At the time, India was recording more than 200,000 coronavirus cases a day,” the article continues, “Those scenes were just a prelude to the devastation now unfolding in India,” said the Post.

“The RSF report projects the actual scenario of press freedom,” says Dr Kitty Mukherjee, a professor at Amity University, in New Delhi, adding “The predators have a style of their own which is similar to their predecessors.”

Mumbai-based human rights lawyer, Aditi Saxena, who is part of Human Rights Law Network that has recently prepared a report on the state of media in India says the inclusion was anything but a surprise. “We are not one bit surprised on this report. Trolling and misinformation has been a modus operandi of this government and has had stifling effect even beyond mainstream media.”

“We have seen tremendous increase in cases and intimidation against the journalists in this time period, particularly in the last one year. There has been a steep rise in sedition cases since 2014. So, one cannot miss the trend and firmly say that journalists are under attack in the last seven years more than they have been before,” she says.

Activists say that the central government has gone into an overdrive of silencing and discrediting critics, in its attempt to glue back Modi’s image that lay in tatters after global outcry on his handling of the second wave.

“The report highlights the method of predatory behaviour, and each country is a case study,” points out Dr. Mukherjee.

Other leaders in the RSF blacklist include Xi Jingping of China, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, besides Viktor Orban of Hungary, Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Pakistan’s Imran Khan.

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