By Sushil Kutty
The Modi government wants a stranglehold on the media. Period. Be it regular media outlets or citizen journalism on social media. The government does not want bad press. It does not tolerate criticism of “government policies, programmes, initiatives and achievements”. It will do anything to avoid taking hits on the chin. It has a glass jaw. So, it has weaponized the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
The PIB’s ostensible reason for existence is to disseminate information pertaining to the government, about the government’s schemes and policy-changes. Whether the Parliament worked or adjourned sine die because of pandemonium and ruckus during Zero Hour? Such run of the mill everyday developments. Praising government deeds, hiding misdeeds.
Basically, a PR agency to continually refurbish the central government’s image. Paid for with taxpayer money. The best and apt comparison is the BJP IT-Cell, which does a great job of blunting criticism of the BJP. Like the Modi government cannot take criticism, the Bharatiya Janata Party also invariably ends up countering alleged propaganda with propaganda.
All political parties have propaganda to peddle. And all parties have spokespersons, but spokespersons alone cannot turn the trick for any party. Even the “celeb” spokespersons. So, the government has added a clause and turned the PIB into the government’s fact-checker with blanket powers to cut and cull anti-government content; turn facts into lies!
Be assured pro-government content will not be PIB-checked, and taken down. News that says Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a 56” chest is downright fake news, a sitting duck lie, but no media fact-checked it. Modi’s 56” chest is blithely repeated ad nauseam.
It hurts that the Modi government is like Swiss cheese and leaks like a sieve. And investigations, studies and research have made it difficult for the ruling party, and the government of the day to escape scrutiny. The government can do without demands for fixing accountability, which is what happens when the government’s mess hits the fan via media; especially social media. Youtube is particularly fatal.
Now, with PIB given extraordinary fact-checking powers, it has become like the de-miners of Cambodia; sweeping the Internet for posts that leave the government embarrassed, and guilty like a bloomer on steroids! The PIB has become the cover-up artist in addition to being a PR agency and ‘Town-Crier’. The PIB can fact-check any “news” on social media, deem it “fake” and take it down with impunity.
If some ‘Youtuber’ uploads a video asking “Where’s Modi’s Achche Din?” it can be PIB-checked and thrown out of the net. But another Youtuber uploads a video gushing ‘Wow, Modi’s Achche Din are here!’ and it won’t be PIB-checked. PIB will only fact check if it is something critical of Modi or Amit Shah.
One year or 400 days to 2024 general elections, and in between nine states also going to polls, has scared the daylights out of the Modi government and the BJP. The party cannot afford to lose, not with the Prime Minister’s eyes set on India becoming ‘Vishwaguru’ under his watch.
“News” like the BBC documentary on Modi’s Gujarat days cannot be allowed to air in India. Not when the Prime Minister has adversaries in every rabbit-hole his government lands in because of alleged acts of omission and commission. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always lived dangerously.
And if anybody, anything, can make the going difficult for the Prime Minister and his government, it is the media, media which haven’t caved in as yet, or haven’t crawled when asked to bend. The Social Media with its giant nebulous glow, with everyone a smartphone- journalist on it, is particularly dangerous, and difficult to control.
Now, 75 years after India’s independence, the PIB has been designated as the government’s fact-checker. It can take down any content that it deems ‘fake news’, no questions asked. This applies specifically to “posts” uploaded on Social Media. The Modi government knows it cannot control content on social media like it does content on regular, traditional, legacy media.
The fait accompli is that nothing can be done about it. Turning PIB into a fact-checker does nothing to the freedom of expression that can be taken to court. It is the government’s fact-checker versus the private fact-checker, Zubair-Sinha AltNews type of fact checker, with scales weighed in favour of PIB-fact-checker because PIB can take down even facts/lies checked by the Zubair-Sinha AltNews type of fact-checker. The question is who will put a check on the PIB fact-checker? (IPA Service)