On Thursday, which was tiol Press Day, Prime Minister rendra Modi made a pious statement about upholding freedom of press and expression. This is what he said: “A free press is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. We are fully committed to upholding freedom of press and expression in all forms.” There are times when it is judicious to take such statements with the proverbial pinch of salt. This is one of them. What the Prime Minister said will be seen by most people against their general experience and perceptions of the present government’s attitude to real freedom and its ability to take criticism in its stride. And in the ultimate alysis, real freedom will be seen as the eagerness of the government to deal very firmly with people and groups that attempt to take away such freedom. That is what must be seen as guaranteeing true freedom of the press and of “expression in all forms”. There are disquieting indicators that the government is unwilling to grant anything approximating total freedom. One of them is that India has slipped three notches on the World Press Freedom Index 2017. It is down to 136 from 133 among 180 countries. Another is that the Rajasthan government has issued an ordince restricting freedom of the press. As a token of protest, the Hindi daily Rajasthan Patrika left the space reserved for its editorial comment blank on Thursday. There have been quite a few instances of jourlists having been threatened and humiliated by people describing themselves as Hindutva advocates and rendra Modi supporters. On all such matters, the Prime Minister has maintained complete silence instead of indicating in any way that he is shocked by such activities. What is perhaps very significant is that the Prime Minister has never addressed a media conference. He has even stopped having the media accompany him on his overseas trips, thereby cutting out all question and answer sessions. Of late, his silence on vital matters has stumped even his ardent admirers. Even on tiol Press Day, Modi maintained silence on the murder of jourlist Gauri Lankesh. People cannot help wondering whether definitions of familiar words like freedom are about to undergo a change.
Claims of a Free Press