CPJ: As India is set to hold elections next month, journalists covering Narendra Modi, India’s right-wing prime ministerial candidate, are reportedly coming under increased pressure online and in the newsroom for shedding critical light on him. Given these developments, free and independent reporting of the campaign is in doubt–as is the future climate for press freedom should the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) become prime minister.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Modi has widespread popularity–78 percent of those polled held a favorable view of him–even though he remains one of the most controversial political figures in India. Modi was cleared of any wrongdoing by a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court, but many journalists continue toquestion his role as chief minister during the deadly violence in Gujarat more than a decade ago. “The year 2002 changed Modi’s equations with journalists and, in particular, the Delhi-based ‘national’ media,” Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of IBN18 Network, wrote in an editorial last year.
Sevanti Ninan, a media critic and editor of the media watchdog website The Hoot, told CPJ that outlets which reported critically on the 2002 violence continue “to draw Modi’s ire to this day.” She said Modi has been known to walk out of studio interviews on TV channels that question him about the violence. This week, Newslaundry, a media critique website, posted astatement saying Modi canceled a recent interview for its “Candidates 2014” series. According to The Hoot, he canceled only two days before the interview because Newslaundry would not fulfill conditions set by Modi.