MAGAZINE
Why I worry about India’s media
18 Sep 2018
BY JOHN LLOYD
Narendra Modi (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

India's prime minister seeks to create an unquestioning press, writes John Lloyd in the autumn 2018 Index on Censorship magazine

Indian journalism has a strong claim to be the most important journalism in the world. It is still partly free, but increasingly fragile. 

US papers and TV channels are routinely vilified by President Donald Trump, and this is both an astounding and a serious matter. So why is India more concerning?   

Because the US news media can take care of themselves. And in doing so, take care of the business of truth seeking and telling.  

India’s news media, with brave exceptions, are not in that position. The formidably disciplined Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014, a deserved victory. But in power, Modi made clear that he believes the media need calling to heel.  

Hence the litany of  proprietors suppressing what might annoy him and the harassment of those who still seek to get out some version of the truth. The phenomenon is familiar: I saw it in Russia, as Vladimir Putin closed in on a chaotic but relatively free journalism. 

Modi cannot shoulder all the blame. Corruption – coverage bought by politicians and corporate leaders – long predates him, but has not diminished. The hundreds of news channels, which claim to hold power to account, more often provide space for shouting bouts. 

Poverty, violence against women and discrimination against the Muslim minority are often unreported because they are not part of the dominant narrative. The desire of owners, at every level, to pander to the powers that be, seeking to profit by doing so, is too strong. 

India claims to be the world’s largest democracy. It is one still: governments change in broadly free elections; opposition can be fierce; the media are curbed but not silenced. The trend, however, is negative. And for what will be soon the world’s largest state, with a prime minister tending to the authoritarian, that matters greatly. 

John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and an author

Index on Censorship’s autumn 2018 issue, The Age of Unreason, asks are facts under attack? Can you still have a debate? We explore these questions in the issue, with science to back it up.

Look out for the new edition in bookshops, and don’t miss our Index on Censorship podcast, with special guests, on Soundcloud.

The Age Of Unreason

The autumn 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine explores the age of unreason. Are facts under attack? Can you still have a debate? We explore these questions in the issue, with science to back it up.

With: Timandra Harkness, Ian Rankin, Sheng Keyi

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John Lloyd

John Lloyd is a contributing editor to the Financial Times and an author

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