The exit of two prominent journalists from a Hindi news channel was raised today in parliament, where opposition leaders alleged that the channel, ABP News, has been targeted over a report critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge accused the government of trying to curb freedom of the press.
“There have been several instances of the government trying to stifle the media in the past few years. Especially when they try to do a ‘Reality Check’ of government’s views. That’s when they are intimidated, threatened… if there is no freedom of speech, how can we speak?” he said.
Union Information and Broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore strongly refuted the charge. He said ABP had run an incorrect news report but the government had taken no action against them.
He suggested that the sackings in ABP may be linked to their falling viewership.
“The channel he is talking about ran a wrong story. Despite that, the government did not issue a show-cause notice. If the government wanted to interfere, it would have because the Free Dish (state-run satellite TV service) is the government’s,” he said.
“The government has nothing to do with this. This channel – their TRP (television rating points) is falling rapidly because people don’t want to see them anymore. And they are blaming the government” he added.
Last month, Mr Rathore was among ministers who had countered a report on the ABP show “Masterstroke” that suggested a woman from Chhattisgarh had been coached to back, in a televised interaction with PM Modi, government claims that it was doubling farmer income – a key promise in last year’s budget.
The show’s anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai and the channel’s managing editor Milind Khandekar announced their resignation from ABP News this week.Many users on Twitter claimed that since the report was aired, there were blackouts during the show.
According to sources, another senior ABP News anchor Abhisar Sharma was sent on leave allegedly for an unfavourable news report on law and order in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha yesterday, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien too raised the subject. On Twitter, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal attacked the government.
“Free media is life line of democracy. But Modi govt is hell bent to kill independent media. The resignation of two eminent TV journalists from ABP News in two days is another proof. Media should rise now, other wise it will be too late #FreeMediaDiedInIndia (sic),” he said.