Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has countered the BJP’s latest advocacy of media freedom by asking its president J.P. Nadda why so many journalists had been arrested or killed in states governed by the party or its allies.
The chief minister underscored that India’s rank on the global Press Freedom Index had fallen from 136 in 2015 to 161 in 2023, indicating media freedom had suffered under the BJP-led government at the Centre.
Siddaramaiah was responding to Nadda’s allegation that Opposition bloc INDIA was “bullying” journalists by boycotting 14 anchors of various English and Hindi TV channels.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has boycotted every Indian journalist by not addressing even a single press conference in the last 10 years. How is it wrong to boycott 14 journalists who have compromised media ethics by acting as mouthpiece of one political party?” Siddaramaiah posted on X late on Friday.
“We will give you the data on the actual attack on the media. You may have forgotten this, but INDIA still remembers it,” he added, naming 12 journalists arrested or killed in states governed by the BJP and its friends.
He named Rakesh Singh, Shubham Mani Tripathi (both from Uttar Pradesh), G. Moses (Tamil Nadu), Parag Bhuyan (Assam) and Gauri Lankesh (Karnataka) as journalists who had been murdered.
Moses, who had reported on the drug and land mafias, was hacked to death in November 2020 when Tamil Nadu was ruled by the AIADMK, seen as close to the BJP and now formally part of the NDA.
Lankesh, a staunch critic of the RSS-BJP, was shot dead in the then BJP-ruled Karnataka in 2017, with the police investigation pointing to the role of Hindutva outfits.
Among journalists arrested for doing their job, Siddaramaiah mentioned Malayalam reporter Siddique Kappan (arrested in Uttar Pradesh); Bangalore-based fact-checker Mohammed Zubair (arrested by Delhi police who report to the Centre); Ajit Ojha and Prashant Kanojia (both arrested in Uttar Pradesh), Jaspal Singh (arrested in Haryana), Sajad Gul (arrested in centrally governed Jammu and Kashmir) and Kishorechandra Wangkhen (arrested in Manipur). Some of these journalists have received bail.
The police of BJP-ruled Manipur recently filed an FIR against four senior journalists from the Editors Guild of India for their fact-finding report on the ongoing violence in the state and its coverage by the local media.
Nadda had in a post on X on Thursday accused INDIA of “bullying” the media apart from attacking Sanatana Dharma.
“These days, the I.N.D.I Alliance is only doing 2 things: Bashing Sanatana Sanskriti -- each party is competing to outdo the other in hurling the choicest abuses towards Sanatana Sanskriti,” he wrote.
“Bullying the media -- filing FIRs, threatening individual journalists, making ‘lists’ in true Nazi style of who to target. The Emergency era Mindset is alive among these parties.”
The BJP had earlier accused Karnataka’s Congress government of stifling media freedom when it formed a committee to contain fake news.
State IT minister Priyank Kharge had then allayed any fears about the fact-checking initiative ending up leashing the media, and said that only the peddlers of lies needed to worry.
Kharge recently assured the Editors Guild, which had red-flagged the initiative, that the fact-checking unit “will uphold an apolitical stance, devoid of bias and will transparently explain the methodologies employed to the public”.
“Rest assured, we will diligently follow the tenets of natural justice. Let it be clear that the establishment of this unit is in no way an attempt to impinge upon the freedom of the press,” the minister had posted on X.
The BJP has stepped up its attack on the four-month-old Congress government in Karnataka, which has launched a crackdown on hate speech, moral policing, cow vigilantism and fake news.
Siddaramaiah on Friday directed the police to register cases in all instances of hate speech and moral policing by themselves, without waiting for a written complaint from the victims.
“The people elected us to bring in change. So we expect the police department to deliver the change the people want,” the chief minister told the police brass at a meeting.
He said officers would face disciplinary action if they failed to crack down on law-and-order violations, including hate crime.