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Disinformation & Godi Media

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India's fake news and propaganda machine is fuelled by the BJP government. As India plummets in press freedom, we continue seeing the violence enacted to silence dissent as publications and journalists critical of the government are persecuted.

Disinformation and Godi Media are major threats to India’s democracy. Godi media translates to “lapdogs” because they “sit in the master’s lap, but they don’t bite as much as they yap.” The term was coined by NDTV journalist, Ravish Kumar in regards to the biased reporting of Indian news and media that supports the ruling right-wing NDA government. 

Godi media translates to “lapdogs” because they “sit in the master’s lap, but they don’t bite as much as they yap.” – Ravish Kumar

Basically, think Fox News, but 10 times the amount of lies. According to Reporters without Borders, India is ranked 142nd in the world on the global press freedom index. A Times Magazine article in 2019 reflected on how, with Modi’s rise to power, distrust had been created in the “nation’s basic norms,” including media. Patterns of censorship and disinformation are clear since Modi came into power in 2014. Modi has, to an extent, succeeded in controlling the state’s news media. 

The New York Times reported that “Modi has shrewdly cultivated the media to build a cult of personality that portrays him as the nation’s selfless savior.” Senior government officials have aided in controlling the media’s narrative by having editors and journalists removed, cutting government advertising, and ordering tax investigations on outlets. In 2018, some reporters and television anchors told Reuters that Modi’s government officials had threatened physical harm and had attacked them online.

The term, Godi Media, was widely used in response to disinformation spread on the January 2020 protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The media attempted to downplay the events of the protests and the discriminatory intentions of the government. Media censorship also played a role, with the suspension of Internet services in Mangalore for 48 hours. Similar censorship and unethical journalism practices have more recently been observed through the coverage of the Farmer’s Protests. Protestors have had to combat false narratives being pushed by Godi Media about them — narratives falsely claiming they are terrorists or motivated by greed. 

"The Indian authorities' response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events," said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. There have also been attempts to silence journalists reporting from the ground and activists through media blockades and unjust arrests. Mandeep Punia, an independent journalist was detained and assaulted in jail.

“It’s a very chilling development for the press,” said Apar Gupta, Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. Global News reported that government Ministers have accused journalists of inciting hatred and endangering the nation’s integrity through inaccurate reporting and tweets. Some reporters were charged with sedition charges that carry a maximum five-year prison term. The Editors Guild of India said that the cases against the journalists were “an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media.” 

According to a study by Geeta Seshu for the Free Speech Collective, sixty-seven journalists were arrested and nearly 200 physically attacked in 2020. Modi’s government is censoring journalists that are asking questions and reporting on the people in power, while the state-supporting Godi media has taken on justifying the violence and wrongdoings of Modi’s government. This is a danger to the people and to democracy in India.

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