Indian media has taken a soft look at Modi. This is changing because of the pandemic
Given the decomposing corpses, Bihar officials suspected they came from further upstream – possibly from Uttar Pradesh, the heavily populated state where Gaur is based. He therefore sent a team of 30 journalists to more than 27 districts to investigate.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 35-year career,” Gaur told CNN Business.
While the human toll from the disease has been immense, journalists like Gaur are not only covering the tragedy of the situation. They are also fighting for transparency and accountability from a government that has tried to quell criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his handling of the pandemic.
“State officials have tried to stop our coverage several times in recent days, and have even threatened us with legal action,” he added.
To get the real story, many media have increasingly shoe-leather journalism.
“The mainstream media, especially the broadcast media, are really ignoring the failures of the Modi government, even if they appear neutral,” said Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO of Newslaundry, an award-winning independent news site that focuses on media and journalism.
But newspapers like Dainik Bhaskar “did not fare well and really went after the government “with its coverage of the pandemic, even as some leading television channels remain as” sycophantic as ever, “he added.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, three of the main local language newspapers – Sandesh, Divya Bhaskar and Gujarat Samachar – have consistently questioned the official second wave statistics through their coverage.
The newspaper said its reporters unearthed the data by visiting districts and municipal corporations.
Have Indian media owners really gotten more daring?
This type of accountability reporting has not been the norm in many mainstream Indian media in recent years. But it’s hard to sell the government’s narrative to readers as Covid-19 cases continue to rise uncontrollably across the country.
The promoters of many TV stations and newspapers must stay on the right books of the ruling party, Sekhri of Newslaundry said. They “walk on eggshells” when it comes to government because they need favorable regulatory policies for their various businesses, which can range from telecommunications to oil, he said.
However, it becomes increasingly difficult for many media platforms to be subservient when public anger rises against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, Sekhri added.
“They realize that their journalists will be beaten if they take to the streets” and do not report the truth, he said.
There is also the mental toll it takes to do such reporting. “If you are not mentally strong, you will not be able to endure the scenes unfolding on the ground,” said Dhaval Bharwad, deputy chief photographer of Divya Bhaskar, who also belongs to the Dainik Bhaskar group.
Despite the challenges, many Indian journalists seem willing to keep trying to find out the truth. In the capital Delhi, Outlook India magazine caused a stir on Twitter last week, when it used the cover of its new issue to criticize the government’s inaction, presenting it in the form of a poster of people missing.
“It’s not an act of bravery on our part,” Outlook editor Ruben Banerjee told CNN Business. “We are just reporting objectively. There is a feeling of abandonment in the country.”
– Jyoti Jha contributed to this report.