A Moratorium on the Press: Is the Modi Govt attempting to silence the Fourth Estate?
The Modi Govt. is now using the DAVP to penalise papers and publications that have been critical of the State.
On June 26, during Zero Hour of Parliament, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, raised the issue of the ban on government advertisements in The Hindu, because of the newspaper’s investigation on the Rafalle reports.
He pointed out that ban against The Hindu has been in effect since March. Chowdhury alleged that government advertisement in all papers of the Times Group papers have also been effectively banned from June, in retaliation for publishing reports Prime Minister Modi’s Model Code of Conduct during the elections.
The Telegraph and APB has also been penalised for publishing similar articles that were critical of the government.
“There is a freeze,” an executive at Bennett, Coleman & Co that controls the Times of Indiaand the Economic Times, among the country’s biggest English-language newspapers, told Reuters. “Could be (because of) some reports they were unhappy with,” the executive said, seeking anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
The decision to make these ad placements falls with the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP). According to the Print Media Advertisement Policy, issued by the DAVP, “In releasing advertisements to newspapers /journals the DAVP does not take into account the political affiliation or editorial policies of newspapers /journals. However, DAVP would avoid releasing advertisements to newspapers /journals, which incite or tend to incite communal passion, preach violence, offend the sovereignty and integrity of India or socially accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”
The inclusion of this in the preamble of the policy itself marks the importance of the DAVP’s ideological basis of advertising decisions, and makes the stance of the organization sufficiently clear. Not only is this patently undemocratic, it is also unfair to the readers. Advertisement revenue and government ad allocation is an essential part of newspaper income; which offsets production costs. In the long run, any lapse in ad income will need to be compensated by subscription charges, borne by the reader.
Reuters was able to get in touch with the ABP Group, which publishes The Telegraph. This is the paper that has run reports questioning Modi’s record on everything from national security to unemployment, has seen a similar 15% drop in government advertisements for around six months, two company officials told Reuters. “Once you don’t toe the government line in your editorial coverage and you write anything against the government, then obviously the only way they can penalise you (is) to choke your advertising supply,” the first ABP official told Reuters. The second ABP official said that there had been no communication from the government, and the company was looking to other sources to plug the gap. “Press freedom must be maintained and it will be maintained despite these things,” the official said. Both also sought anonymity.