Over the course of ten years, India’s rank on the World Press Freedom Index has dropped from 105 in 2009 to 140 in 2019. Its current position of the index is worse than that of Maldives, Jordan and the war-torn Palestine. Corporate ownership coupled with advertising revenue from the government has created a national media that has repeatedly bent to external pressure, either by inclination or by compulsion. This has been particularly stark during Narendra Modi’s first term as prime minister—for instance, in June 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids at the residences and offices of Radhika and Prannoy Roy, the owners of the media-group NDTV. In a December 2018 piece for The Caravan, the journalist Josy Joseph wrote, “While these processes were set in motion long back, the present government’s defanging of the media remains unprecedented.”
Below are ten stories that news publications retracted during Modi’s first tenure as the prime minister. Many of these stories did not seem to have editorial fallacies, but showed industrialists deemed to be close to the government and Modi’s fellow members from the Bharatiya Janata Party in poor light—Amit Shah, the party’s national president, features in three of them. I reached out to the publications that pulled down the stories, but none had replied at the time of publishing.
1. “A Fact Check: Narendra Modi was given questions to News Nation interview in advance; video shows PM reading from file.”
Firstpost (13 May 2019)
Modi gave few interviews during his tenure, and none of them involved any serious cross-questions. On 11 May 2019, he spoke to the journalists from 24-hour Hindi news channel, News Nation. Referring to his role in the recent aerial strikes by the Indian Air Force within Pakistan’s territory, Modi said that when the force was mulling over conducting the strikes as it was a rainy day with bad weather, he suggested that “there is so much cloud cover and rain,” it “could be advantageous in escaping from [Pakistan’s] radar,” and asked them to go ahead with the strikes.
The next day, a clip from the interview emerged on Twitter where Modi could be seen holding the script of the conversation. It had a part of a question Modi was asked written on the top of the page. On 13 May, the news website Firstpost, owned by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, published a piece “fact-checking” the claim that Modi’s interview was impromptu with embedded tweets from Pratik Sinha, the editor of the fact-checking portal Alt News. Within a day, the story was removed from Firstpost without an explanation. A cached copy of the story is still available online.