Intimidation and FIRs: How the government is dealing with news reports on its failures
Stop Press

Intimidation and FIRs: How the government is dealing with news reports on its failures

A weekly newsletter to help you track the news media ecosystem and make sense of it.

By Chitranshu Tewari

Published on :

Welcome to Stop Press by Chitranshu Tewari, a weekly newsletter to break down the trends, innovations and news in the media ecosystem. To get it in your inbox every Saturday, sign up now.

Lead 🕶️

Fifty-five. That’s the number of journalists who have faced arrests, FIRs, intimidation and physical assault ever since the national lockdown was announced on March 25.

And the list seems to be swelling each day.

On Thursday, the Varanasi police booked Scroll’s executive editor, Supriya Sharma, under charges of defamation, negligence to spread infectious diseases, and sections under the SC/ST Act (a non-bailable offense). Why? An FIR was lodged by a Dalit woman quoted in Sharma’s report on the impact of the lockdown in a Varanasi village that was adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It doesn’t take much to uncover the real motivations behind the FIR. How does a ground report, highlighting the hunger faced by people during the lockdown, mock poverty and caste, as alleged by the complainant? Is it a coincidence that the complainant found out about the story only after a police official informed them?

NDTV spoke to the complainant and her son, underlining the gaps between the story and the claims made in the FIR.

Uttar Pradesh tops the chart

Just like Sharma’s FIR, there have been at least 11 more instances of crackdowns on media persons in Uttar Pradesh — a tally that beats all other states, according to a report by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, a Delhi-based think tank.

This includes an FIR (filed under the SC/ST Act and Disaster Management Act) against a reporter for his story on mismanagement and negligence at a quarantine centre, a notice by a district magistrate to a newspaper for its story on how Dalits were forced to eat grass due to starvation, and an interrogation of a reporter by a Special Task Force of the police after his report on low-quality PPEs.

Such has been the administration’s enthusiasm to file FIRs that journalists in Fatehpur district conducted a “jal satyagraha” to protest against FIRs slapped on their colleagues.

The news reports that triggered the FIRs and notices leave no doubt that the idea is to intimidate journalists and media houses from anything that makes the state government look bad in its Covid-19 efforts.

Final blow to local media

Local media over the world is facing an existential threat. The vanishing ad revenue accelerated by Covid-19 has already shut local outlets abroad. Back in India, there’s hardly any coverage of local media to know the extent of it.

Local media is, in many ways, a bedrock of any media ecosystem. They reach places that the mainstream or metro-based media never will, uncovering issues that both national TV and dailies have little appetite for.

In such a context, what does the strategic gagging of journalists mean for the local media? While journalists working with major outlets, in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, get an outpouring of support and resources to stand up to the government, local journalists in smaller cities and with lesser-known outlets mostly fend for themselves.

The media needs to further spotlight the attacks on journalists from smaller cities and towns. If anything, their stories deserve even more attention due to the odds they go against to bring us the truth.

It’s clear what danger we are looking at and the message that the government is signalling: that the government will come after you if you make them look bad. Now more than ever, you, the reader, need to support independent media and power ground reports. Subscribe to Newslaundry. You can also read our reports on the gagging of local journalists here, here, here.

Homebrewed

The Hindu lays off 20 employees from its Mumbai bureau

Around four reporters and four people on the desk have been retained, apart from the resident editor.

Satire: Times Now hires WhatsApp as national security editor

“Yes, the scoop was entirely fake,” a source at the channel said. “But this AI experiment has only been artificial so far, not intelligent. We’ll get there.”

Chug it out

Scroll’s dispatches from eastern Uttar Pradesh

Given the inconvenience Supriya Sharma’s reportage has caused to the government, it’s a good time to read her stories on the impact of lockdown in Uttar Pradesh — from the boatmen and weavers to the business of cremation in the prime minister’s constituency.

Ecuador’s government-run Twitter army

A deep dive into the fringe troll centres that became a mainstay of Ecuadorian politics.

“For you it is a headline, for us it is our survival. If the advertisements stop, our salaries will not come,” the reporters pleaded with the editor

Shantanu Guha Ray gets to the heart of the problem in a detailed piece on the state of Indian media.

🎧 Anyone anywhere can edit a Wikipedia article. How does it remain accurate then in times of Covid-19 misinformation?

A podcast.

How do English newspaper readers look? And how do they compare to their Hindi brethren?

A visual representation. Who reads which paper and in what style will tell you a thing or two about the advertisers the daily serves.

Platforms

Facebook and Instagram will allow US users to block political ads

This follows Twitter’s decision to ban all political ads. Other countries, including India, will have to wait for the feature.

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering who the top political ad-spenders are:

Source: Facebook ad library report and Inc 42.
Source: Facebook ad library report and Inc 42.

Facebook’s deal With Jio under Indian antitrust review

Big tech is increasingly facing a roadblock with antitrust laws. And it seems like India will be no exception. Our antitrust watchdog, Competition Commission of India, is also looking into Google Pay.

Facebook says it doesn’t need news stories for its business and won’t pay to share them in Australia

A battle is ensuing between big tech and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, “which has been tasked with creating a mandatory code of conduct aimed at levelling the playing field”. This needs a Stop Press edition of its own.

Catch up

Why micropayments will never be a thing in journalism

An unpopular opinion in the Indian news media ecosystem but one that I agree with.

Ever subscribed to a foreign news publisher and then faced challenges in cancelling your subscription?

NYT faces a class action lawsuit for making subscription cancellation exceedingly difficult.

🛠️ Resources and tools

How NYT visualised trends in white extremist attacks

The behind-the-scenes of NYT’s interactive story on white extremist killings from New Zealand to Norway to the United States.

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020

“Covers 40 markets in six continents and offers insights on misinformation, trust in news, local journalism, digital subscriptions, and covering politics and climate change.”

Bonus

⭐ June 16 was the 100th birth anniversary of Hemant Kumar, a singer I love. Here’s one of my favorite Hemant Kumar songs, penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri, a poet who was jailed for his anti-Nehru poems for more than a year.

From Main Shayar Toh Nahin, Harper Collins.
From Main Shayar Toh Nahin, Harper Collins.

This was the seventh edition of Stop Press, an effort that is primarily an exercise to learn more about the hows and why of the news ecosystem.

For suggestions and feedback, do write to chitranshu@newslaundry.com. If you liked what you read, do sign up below:

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