According to a report by Reporters without Borders, India’s press freedom ranking dropped two places, and it was ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in 2020. The report cited that India’s journalists are “attacked online and physically,” and those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate.
Media bias refers to the tendency of media outlets to present news and information that favors or disfavors certain groups, individuals, issues, or viewpoints. The concept of objectivity in journalism, which refers to fairness and neutrality in the gathering and dissemination of news and information, is often debated and challenged. India’s media market is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, catering to different languages, regions, and religions. However, it faces many challenges and criticisms, including political interference, corporate influence, sensationalism, misinformation, violence against journalists, and low press freedom rankings.
Many observers have accused Indian media outlets of being biased or lacking objectivity in their coverage of various issues, especially those related to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of the factors that contribute to media bias in India include government advertising revenue, ownership concentration, editorial pressure, market competition, audience preferences, and ideological affiliations.
One example of media bias in India is the coverage of the recent farmers’ protest against a raft of agriculture reform laws. The protest turned violent on 26 January 2021 when some protesters clashed with the police and stormed the historic Red Fort in Delhi. One protester died during the rally. While police said he died when the tractor he was driving overturned, his family alleged that he was shot. His family’s account was published by various newspapers and magazines. However, eight journalists who covered or shared the story were charged with sedition and other crimes by the police in four BJP-ruled states. The Editors Guild of India said that these cases were ‘an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media’.
Another example of media bias in India is the reaction to foreign media reports that are critical of India’s policies or performance. Indian ministers and officials have often rebuked foreign media outlets for what they call their “racist”, “prejudiced”, or “malicious” coverage of India.
The issue of press freedom and access to information in India has been the subject of much debate and scrutiny, particularly in the context of the situation in Kashmir. In August 2019, the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, putting the region under direct federal control. Since then, the government has imposed a series of restrictions on the media in the region, including the detention of journalists, the suspension of mobile and internet services, and the imposition of curfews. These measures have made it difficult for journalists to report freely and accurately on the situation in Kashmir, and have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
The situation in Kashmir underscores the importance of a free and independent media in upholding the rule of law and promoting human rights. The media plays a critical role in holding governments accountable and providing citizens with accurate information. It is imperative that Indian media outlets uphold the principles of objectivity and professionalism in their reporting and resist any undue pressure or influence from any source.
The Indian government has a responsibility to protect its citizens and maintain law and order, but it must do so in a manner that is consistent with the rule of law and the protection of fundamental human rights. The United Nations has also raised concerns about the restrictions on the media in Kashmir, with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression stating that the measures taken by the Indian government had a “disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir.