The Editors' Guild today said the recent instances of journalists calling out media house owners about interference on behalf of the government, were "disconcerting". In a strongly worded message, the guild said it "decries all attempts on the part of the government to interfere in the free and independent functioning of journalists, either put under pressure directly, or through the proprietors".
To the media house owners, it advised "to not cow down to political pressure" and reminded that "institutional strength and respect is directly linked to editorial independence and undermining the former can result in curtailing the latter".
The Guild did not name any media houses or journalists, but its statement came in the wake of a huge controversy over the exit of two senior journalists from television channel ABP news last week.
Punya Prasun Bajpai, who hosted the primetime show "Masterstroke", has alleged that he was put under pressure from the management to curtail content critical of the government. He and managing editor Milind Khandekar resigned after Masterstroke investigated the claims of a woman from Chhattisgarh that her income had doubled during her on-air interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In an article in The Wire, Punya Prasun Bajpai said pressure was brought upon the channel through withdrawal of advertisements and disruptions during the airing of the programme. He said after he quit, the channel's biggest advertiser was back and disruptions during airing of the programme vanished.
The government, the Editors' Guild said today, must respond to the instances where during the airing of media content critical of the government, the broadcast has been disrupted "in a manner almost Orwellian".
"This seems a brazen attempt to punish "unfriendly" news channels and silence inconvenient voices," the Guild said. "The Guild also decries the tendency on the part of the government, and the political class in general, to use selective denial of journalistic access as a weapon," the statement added.
The journalists' exit was also raised in parliament last week, with opposition leaders alleging that ABP News was targeted over the news report. Yesterday, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, in a series of tweets, said journalists covering Rafale scam were receiving threats from the government.
Supreme leader's minions are now sending threatening messages to journalists reporting on the #RafaleScam asking them to "back off or else...".— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 30, 2018
I'm really proud of the few brave press people who still have the guts to defend the truth and stand up to Mr 56.
A second tweet read: "The Supreme Leader's minions have been trying to silence those reporting on #RafaleScam Thanks to ABP News, the MODUS OPERANDI of the minions is in the open. Threats. Channel Blackouts. Sackings. Advertising cuts. Anything to prevent the truth being told. Satyamev Jayate."
Refering to the issue, the Guild said: "In a related issue, the Guild decries the "cease and desist" notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers in an effort to block the coverage of an important Defence deal. The company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn't, it should be resisted and. If needed, we hope the courts will weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions."