Government has no tolerance for criticism, fears independent journalism

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Amid reports of sedition charges against journalists for being critical of the government’s response towards virus, the International Press Institute (IPI) Saturday issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over the alleged misuse of law by authorities to “intimidate journalists and curtail press freedom”.

International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom. In its statement, IPI highlighted the detention of Dhaval Patel, owner and editor of the Gujarati news portal “Face of Nation”, was charged with sedition for writing an article about the possibility of leadership change in Gujarat due to an increasing number of coronavirus cases in the state. Patel was charged under Section 124 A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and Disaster Management Act Section 54 (spreading false panic).

Likewise on May 10, Delhi police summoned Mahender Singh Manral, a correspondent of The Indian Express newspaper, for a report about police investigation into the possibility that an audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, had been doctored. That audio clip supposedly proves the culpability of Tablihi Jamaat in spreading the virus.

Editors Guild of India called these incidents “deeply disturbing” and condemned the “growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws.” The Press Club of India said these actions show “an affront to every canon of independent and responsible journalism”.

IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said, “A democracy like India can only thrive if media pluralism is allowed to flourish, but the government appears to have no tolerance for criticism and fears objective, independent journalism.”

Further, in a flurry of policies curbing independent journalism, government unsuccessfully petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to bar the media from publishing information about COVID-19 that had not been cleared by the government. The court though, directed the media to “refer to and publish” the official version of the developments.

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