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India enjoyed a free and vibrant media. Narendra Modi’s brazen attacks are a catastrophe

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In January, the BBC broadcast a two-part series, India: The Modi Question, which looked forensically at the role of Narendra Modi in fomenting the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in which at least 1,000 people were killed. Now the prime minister of India, Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat.

The response in India was swift. Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the ministry of information and broadcasting, called the documentary “propaganda and anti-India garbage” that “reflects BBC’s colonial mindset”. The BJP government invoked emergency laws to ban the documentary and any online links to clips. When students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University tried to screen the documentary, the university authorities cut off electricity to the whole campus.

Then, last week, the authorities raided BBC offices in India, supposedly to investigate “tax evasion” by the corporation’s Indian operation. On Friday, the government claimed to have discovered “evidence of tax irregularities”. Most local journalists are deeply cynical. The raid on the BBC, the Press Club of India observed, was “a clear cut case of vendetta”.

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The cynicism about Delhi’s motives is well earned. Since Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party came to power in 2014, he has pursued a relentless campaign to curb the independence of India’s media. “Criticise us and we’ll come after you,” is the banner under which the government operates. As the Editors Guild of India put it, the BBC raids (which the government, in BJP Newspeak, calls not “raids” but “surveys”) are part of a well-established “trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment”. The government – and many BJP-controlled state administrations – have also sought to intimidate journalists through the use of sedition and national security laws. In 2020, Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala, reporting a story of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who died after being allegedly gang-raped by four men, was charged by police in BJP-controlled Uttar Pradesh with sedition, promoting enmity between groups, outraging religious feelings, committing unlawful activities and money laundering. Still awaiting trial, he was finally released on bail this month after two years in jail.

That same year, Dhaval Patel, editor of a Gujarati news website, was charged with sedition for writing an article critical of the state government’s Covid policy. In 2021, the journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was charged under the National Security Act by the BJP-led Manipur government for writing that cow dung does not cure Covid; he spent nearly two months in jail before being released by the courts.

India’s ministry of information and broadcasting blocked the television channel Media One for 48 hours because it had covered mob attacks on Muslims in Delhi in 2020 “in a way that seemed critical toward Delhi police and RSS”. The RSS is a paramilitary Hindu-nationalist movement with close ties to Modi and the BJP.

In 2021, as Delhi was rocked by huge farmers’ protests against new agricultural laws, prominent journalists, including Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of the digital website The Wire, and Vinod Jose, Anant Nath and Paresh Nath, editors and publishers of Caravan magazine, were charged with sedition for reporting on the death of one of the protesters. As Hartosh Singh Bal, Caravan’s political editor, observed, the targets were not surprising: the farmers’ protest was the biggest challenge to the BJP since it came to power, while The Wire and Caravan are “among the few media organisations willing to look at the ruling government critically”.

These are just a handful of the cases that Indian journalists have faced in recent years. Charging someone with sedition has become the weapon of choice, especially for BJP politicians and administrations when faced with criticism.

Journalists, especially female journalists, and those critical of Hindu nationalism, have not just been censored, they have been assaulted, even killed. Journalists like Gauri Lankesh, shot dead by three assailants in Bangalore in 2017. In 2021, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) named India as one of the five most dangerous countries for a journalist.

Many media bosses have been only too happy to comply with government strictures. In 2020, during the Covid pandemic, hours before he announced the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown, Modi met senior news executives and urged them to publish only “inspiring and positive stories” about the government’s efforts. As Caravan noted, Modi’s intervention ensured little critical coverage of the government’s Covid failures. The supreme court, however, denied the government’s request for prior censorship of news stories, ordering the media to “publish the official version” of pandemic developments. Unsurprisingly, India has plummeted in the global press freedom rankings compiled by RSF. In 2002, India stood 80th in the world. Today it stands at 150th out of 180 countries, below nations such as Turkey, Libya and Zimbabwe.

Repressive censorship did not originate with the BJP. India has long had a vibrant media culture; it has also long had a culture of censorship and repression. The most despotic moment came with the imposition of the Emergency between 1975-77, when prime minister Indira Gandhi cancelled elections, suspended civil liberties, rounded up political opponents and muzzled the media. She expelled the BBC from India after it refused to sign a censorship agreement.

Nevertheless, the BJP under Modi has helped remake the relationship between the media and the state, and, outside of the Emergency, has imposed the tightest leash on the press.

While many media owners and big-name editors have toed the government line, smaller fiercely independent outlets and individual journalists have pushed back against the climate of censorship and borne the brunt of the repression. What many now fear is that the geopolitical importance of India, especially as a counterweight to China, is muting the western response, particularly after the assault on the BBC. While western governments lecturing other nations about freedom and liberty is often an unedifying sight, many fear the silence of London and Washington “could pave the way for more ‘brazen’ action… by the Modi government”.

As rightwing populists do in many other nations, the BJP presents its battering of the media as a challenge to the “elite”. It is, in reality, an attack on any criticism of the elite. The slow strangulation of a free and independent media is a catastrophe for India. But not just for India. It is a development that should trouble all of us.

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist

 

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Douglas Todd: Ethnic media reveals tough realities in migrant communities – Vancouver Sun

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Opinion: Hundreds of multi-lingual media outlets are the “canary in the coal mine,” offering warnings about everything from foreign interference to psychological stresses on newcomers

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Canada could head off foreign influence and intimidation by monitoring the country’s proliferating ethnic media, according to a new report.

Hundreds of foreign-language newspapers, radio shows and TV stations in Canada offer revealing insights into the hopes and tensions experienced by more than eight million migrants and their offspring, says a study titled Diaspora Dynamics: Ethnic Media and Foreign Conflict in Multicultural Canada.

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Canada’s ethnic media is “the canary in the coal mine,” offering warnings about everything from foreign interference to psychological stresses on newcomers, whether from Iran, China, Russia, India, South Korea, the Middle East or beyond, says Andrés Machalski, president of Multilingual International Media Research (MIREMS).

But governments aren’t taking advantage of the fertile resource. Their lack of understanding of the powerful role played by ethnic media has “enabled Chinese and Indian agents to (impact) public opinion … and provided an open door to homeland subversion of Canadian democracy,” says Machalski.

MIREMS’ 54-page report maintains the media outlets are invaluable for understanding what is going on in scores of diaspora communities.

The report goes so far as to suggest many newcomers suffer from anxiety and depression associated with “complex PTSD” as they try to navigate news and views from their homelands with their new lives in Canada.

Although many of the views expressed in ethnic media are predictable, there is some range of opinion, says the report by MIREMS, which tracks more than 800 media outlets in 30 languages in Canada and worldwide.

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The discussion paper includes special sections on what the ethnic media says about China, the Russian-Ukraine war, the murder of a Sikh militant in B.C., and the Israel-Hamas war.

Here are some highlights:

Beijing’s infiltration of Chinese-language media in Canada

Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws Of The Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, wrote last week in The Vancouver Sun that one of the most “venomous” activities of the Chinese Communist Party is the way it controls “almost all Chinese-language media” in Canada.

“The result of this is most contemptible among new Canadians from Mainland China. This stranglehold blocks their exposure to Canadian society and values, and sustains CCP control over their lives,” Manthorpe wrote.

The MIREMS report does not go so far. But it does capture how Chinese-language newspaper and broadcast outlets, aimed at 1.7 million Chinese-Canadians, more often than not toe the Communist Party line on human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the detention of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou, and China’s interference in Canadian elections.

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Since many ethnic Chinese writers and editors in Canada fear they are being spied on by agents from Mainland China, the report says they often “shy away from controversial topics to protect their interests.” Still, MIREMS suggests a degree of independent reporting can be found.

Russian-Canadian media silent on the war against Ukraine

While the government-controlled media in Russia stridently promotes the devastating invasion of Ukraine, Machalski says that is not the case in the Russian-language media in Canada. “It is largely silent.”

Russian-Canadian media are significantly more “balanced” than those in the homeland — and are occasionally even sympathetic to Ukraine, says the report.

Russian, Ukrainian, Latvian and Polish media outlets in Canada serve a potential audience of more than two million people. If Ottawa had been learning from them, Machalski said, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would likely have avoided the embarrassment of inviting a Ukrainian veteran who had fought for the Nazis to be honoured by Ukraine’s visiting prime minister, Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Less emphasis on “World War III” in Jewish and Arab media in Canada

The mainstream media in Canada is generally more fair and nuanced than the diaspora media in covering most issues, including the Israel-Hamas war, says the report. But there can be surprises.

While Jewish-Canadian and Arab-Canadian outlets mostly contribute to polarization over the war in Gaza, Machalski, who is from Argentina, says there is at least not much talk about “how this is the start of World War III” — a theme that can emerge when mainstream outlets cover angry street protests.

MIREMS
The MIREMS report concludes it is psychologically disturbing for many members of Canada’s diaspora populations to be buffeted by drastically contrasting messages from media outlets. (Illustration: Cover of Diaspora Dynamics: Ethnic Media and Foreign Conflict in Multicultural Canada.) sun

South Asian media more open, and feisty

There has long been a range of opinions expressed in the various multi-language outlets serving South Asian-Canadians, a potential audience of almost two million.

Whether serving the country’s large Sikh or Hindu populations, media outlets are now fixated on how Canada’s diplomatic relations with India have been impacted by last year’s murder in B.C. of Khalistani separatist Hardip Singh Nijjar.

Sikh-oriented media outlets largely condemn India’s government, supporting Trudeau’s allegation that Indian agents could have been involved. On the other hand, Hindu-oriented outlets tend to accuse Trudeau of pandering to Sikh militants.

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All in all, the MIREMS report concludes with the perceptive theory that it is psychologically disturbing for members of Canada’s sizeable diaspora populations, many of whom experience dual identities, to be buffeted by drastically contrasting messages from different media outlets.

“The constant exposure to homeland conflicts through ethnic media on one hand, and the mainstream media on the other, can be traumatic for immigrants, who find themselves caught between their past and present lives,” says the report.

“The coverage of ongoing conflicts such as those in Ukraine, India and the Middle East might trigger symptoms akin to Complex PTSD, where the stress is prolonged and repetitive.

“This form of psychological stress is complicated by immigrants’ efforts to integrate into Canadian society while maintaining ties to their country of origin, leading to a unique set of mental health challenges.”

dtodd@postmedia.com

Recommended from Editorial

  1. Despite images of Canadian Sikh protesters outraged at India, observers say the Sikh population is “not monolithic” on Khalistan or other issues. (Photo: Surrey mourners carry the casket of slain Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 25, 2023.)

    Douglas Todd: Trudeau’s defiance of India ‘killing two birds with one stone’

  2. Ukrainians are defiant in part because they have a stronger identity — and are more devoted to Eastern Orthodoxy — than Russians. Here, Ukraine's flag flutters at half-mast in the war-torn Donetsk region.

    Douglas Todd: Five things Canadians should know about the war in Ukraine

  3. Blythe Irwin, who monitors the ethnic language media across Canada, with a selection of papers.

    The political use and misuse of Canada’s ethnic media

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Ontario wants meeting with social media execs to battle classroom distractions

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Ontario’s education minister says he wants to sit down with social media executives to work out how to reduce distractions and enforce bans on certain apps in the classroom.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce will table legislation on Monday designed to give the government powers aimed at cracking down on privacy issues, cyberbullying and age-appropriate internet use.

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As part of the legislation, the government is planning to meet with executives at major apps like Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok to work out how to cut distractions.

The province wants help from the companies themselves with issues like students sneaking through age verification or getting around blocks on the apps in places like school WiFi networks.

“I look forward to that conversation and I believe that they’re willing to have that conversation in good faith, recognizing we have powers through the legislation, or we will have should the legislation pass, possible authorities to further protect children,” Lecce told reporters.

Those powers, if voted through, would allow the minister to implement regulations related to social media, although details have not been made public.

Ontario recently announced it would be banning access to all social media on school WiFi networks and school-owned devices. That news came alongside a strict reduction on when phones can be used by students.

Lecce’s plan to sit down with social media companies comes as several school boards in the province are taking companies behind Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok to court.

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School boards, including Toronto District School Board and Ottawa-Carleton, are seeking $4 billion in damages, alleging some app products have rewired how children think, behave and learn and that educators and schools have been left to “manage the fallout.”

The lawsuit has not been publicly supported by the Ford government and Lecce said he is taking a “different approach” from the school boards in dealing with social media distraction.

“We believe social media companies have a role too, working with the government to get this right so that we focus our classrooms on academics,” Lecce said. “We get the distractions out of class.”

Other regulations the government said it is planning could include “age-appropriate standards for software standards” for devices students use at school like laptops and rules to ensure student data isn’t sold.

“The evolving online world provides many opportunities for children’s education and growth but there are risks to their privacy and the collection and use of their personal information,” Todd McCarthy, Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, said Thursday.

“Our government wants our children to have a healthy, safe and age-appropriate digital experience when engaging with public sector organizations like schools which is why we are safeguarding their best interests by putting guardrails in place to better protect them.”

Along with meeting social media executives, the government said it plans to consult school boards, parent groups and law enforcement as it creates the regulations.

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Media speculation about shooting at Drake’s mansion ‘irresponsible,’ writer says

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A security guard at Drake’s mansion in Toronto was badly injured in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday, police say. The shooting happened amid an ongoing musical beef between Drake and Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. But David Dennis Jr., a senior writer at Andscape, says there’s no indication Lamar had anything to do with the shooting and that there’s a racial component to speculation that it’s linked to the feud.

 

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