Indian media perturbed by advisory on foreign content

New restraints on Indian newspapers are drawing attention to the government’s wariness about overseas coverage.

On Nov 25, the Press Council of India, the country’s main print media regulator, said it had received comments “by the government about the responsibility of Indian newspapers in publishing foreign contents”, and declared that “unregulated circulation of the foreign content is not desirable”.

The council advised media groups to “publish foreign extracts in Indian newspapers with due verification”.

The advisory warned that the “reporter, publisher and editor of such newspaper shall be responsible for the contents irrespective of the source from which it is received”.

The Press Council is partly funded by the government and headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India.

On Nov 29, the Editors Guild of India, an independent group, said it was “perturbed by the unprovoked advisory”. It was worried that the Press Council was supporting “a step that could bring in some form of censorship and punitive actions”. It said the “ominous sounding” advisory had “disturbing implications”.

Many Indian newspapers and websites carry syndicated articles from international publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist.

India’s media faces pressure to report favourably on the government’s policies and officials often chafe at critical reports in foreign publications.

In August last year, following the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by Delhi, Reuters and the BBC reported on large protests in the state. India’s Home Ministry claimed the reports were fabricated despite video evidence to the contrary.

In March, the government sent rebuttals to several foreign publications, including The Guardian, Time, The Economist, and The Washington Post, complaining about their coverage of riots in Delhi in February that killed 53 people, mainly Muslims.

In May, when India dropped two places to 142 on a global press freedom index published by the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, India’s information minister said the government would “expose” surveys that “tend to portray a bad picture” about press freedom in India.

The Press Council of India rejected the report because of “lack of clarity” about how it was prepared.

Successive Indian governments have imposed restrictions on foreign media organisations, and these curbs have been tightened in recent years.

In May 2018, the External Affairs Ministry wrote to foreign news organisations stating that travel to certain “protected/restricted” areas such as Jammu and Kashmir required government approval, and requests had to be submitted eight weeks before the proposed trip.

In December 2018, Pulitzer-winning Irish photographer Cathal McNaughton was denied entry into India for having allegedly travelled to Jammu and Kashmir without government permission.

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