Crimes against minorities in India, specifically Dalits and Muslims, have risen dramatically since the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. A reasonable reaction to such hate crimes would have included increasing the allocation of funds to policing machinery at the local and state level. Instead, the Public Policy Research Centre, a BJP-affiliated think tank, had proposed that the state respond by shooting the messenger—that is, the media. In March last year, the think tank released a report making numerous recommendations about the manner in which media organisations ought to function. If adopted, these guidelines would considerably erode the editorial independence of Indian media establishments.
In early April this year, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered the withdrawal of a circular passed by the information and broadcasting ministry, which proposed guidelines to punish journalists found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news. As per the proposal, if a journalist is found guilty, her accreditation could have been suspended for a period of six months, or even permanently cancelled. Following widespread criticism from journalists and opposition members, the government decided to spike the guidelines within 24 hours of proposing them. In a year that will see four state elections, the guidelines created a perception that the government was seeking to muzzle the media. While the government might have retreated this time around, a look at the report released by PPRC suggests that the think tank’s blueprint for the Indian media establishment, endorsed by BJP leaders heading the organisation, is not conducive to its health, vibrancy and multiplicity of voices.
The PPRC report is titled “Examining Objectivity and Non-partisan Character of Media While Covering Atrocities on SC (Dalit) and Minorities: A report of cases between 2015–16.” It is primarily concerned with the adverse reporting that the BJP had to face in the aftermath of three sensitive cases between September 2015 and July 2016—namely, the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the suicide of the PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, and the flogging of four Dalit youths in Una. The report argues that these three incidents were “chosen and singled out for disproportionate coverage” by media establishments.