The Indian Express on Thursday carried an editorial severely critical of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s suggestion to completely ban media advertising for two years. Gandhi had pitched the idea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he had invited suggestions from opposition leaders for tackling the coronavirus crisis.
The ban was number one on Gandhi’s list of five suggestions to the PM. Other suggestions included suspension of the Central Vista beautification project, a hold on foreign visits by those in high office, and a slash in the government’s expenditure budget.
Titled “”, the Express editorial called the suggestion’s timing “spectacularly bad,” adding: “Her call for a ban on advertising in the media shows a complete, and completely shocking, misunderstanding of news as a public good, the economics of its access, the fact that governments use public money to advertise and curbs on it have to follow due process. And, of course, the role of the media as a countervailing institution in a democracy.”
The paper also evoked the Emergency, writing that Gandhi’s “misunderstanding” and “insensitivity” is not surprising since her party censored the press and suspended civil liberties for a 21-month period between 1975 and 1977.
The editorial stressed the “indispensability of a free media,” especially at the time of national crisis: “In the ongoing COVID crisis, it is the media that helps make visible issues like the migrants’ predicament, that otherwise may be invisibilised, even as it becomes the platform for governments to speak to the people, address their anxieties.”
The national daily’s scathing criticism comes days after the National Broadcasters Associations described Gandhi’s idea as “ill-timed” and “highly arbitrary”. On Wednesday, the Indian Newspapers Society had asked the Congress president to withdraw her suggestion, calling it “deeply disturbing and demotivating for the entire media industry".