'Undeclared emergency': Media bodies condemn sedition charges against journalists

By Express News Service
NEW DELHI: The Editors Guild of India has expressed concern over a Group of Minister’s (GoM) report which the body said was prepared with an “embedded toolkit” to control the narrative about the government in the media.

The EGI said since the report was made public, several of those named in the report have denied any involvement in its drafting.

“The Editors Guild of India expresses shock and disbelief at the manner in which a group of ministers (GoM) has prepared a report with an embedded toolkit to control the narrative about the government in the media.

“This GoM, comprising five cabinet and four ministers of state, had been constituted by the government in mid-2020, without any provocation and at a time when various press freedom and democracy indices show a rapid slide,” the EGI said in a statement.

“The preparation of the report and its debilitating import on media freedom and journalists is a major concern for the EGI, which demands that the government should make it clear that it is committed to the plurality of viewers in the media,” it said.  

The report, which was prepared at the end of 2020 and has recently emerged in thee media, further illustrates the government’s “increasingly draconian attitude” against any critique and inquiry by the press, the statement said.

It said the suggestions from the report hinted at increased surveillance and targeting of journalists who depart from the government’s narrative.

“One of the most disturbing instances is the suggestion by a Union minister that refers to developing a ‘strategy to neutralise the people who are writing against the government without facts and spread narratives/spread fake news’. In the absence of any clarity on what will constitute fake news and the process to be followed, such observations smack of an intention to muzzle any criticism of the government,” it added. 

It added that the preparation of the GoM report and “its debilitating import on media freedom and journalists is a major concern for EGI, which demands that the government, which is supposed to safeguard constitutional values of freedom of expression should make it clear that it is committed to the plurality of views in the media.”

The report of the Group of Ministers has suggestions of “tracking 50 negative and 50 positive influencers” on social media and “neutralise people who are writing against the government without facts to spread fake news”.

The GoM comprising nine ministers — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Smriti Irani, S Jaishankar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Hardeep Singh Puri, Babul Supriyo, Anurag Thakur and Kiren Rijiju — had held six meetings between June 14 and July 19 2020 before putting together the 97-page report.

(With PTI Inputs)