Press Cuts – 10: Media Freedom Round-Up

India | Belarus | Australia | #ArticleAlert


Manipur journalists, on February 18, called off their indefinite strike held in protest against a grenade attack on a media office that publishes Poknapham, a vernacular daily, and the English paper People’s Chronicle. 

Local cable networks blacked out news channels and newspapers halted publication since February 13 – the day of the attack on Poknapham’s office.

The Hindu reported that according to a joint press release issued by the All Manipur Working Journalists Union and the Editors Guild Manipur, newspapers and cable networks will end cease-work and resume duty from February 19. 

The decision was made following a meeting at the Press Club, in which it was observed that no rebel group had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to The Hindu.

Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has set up a four-member Special Investigation Team to look into the grenade attack. 


Belarus has jailed journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova for two years on charges of orchestrating protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. Andreyeva and Chultsova were detained in November 2020, after they filmed demonstrations over the death of a protester killed several days earlier.

The two journalists worked for the Poland-based Belsat TV, which was reported to have rejected the accusation that by broadcasting footage of the demonstration the two journalists had disrupted bus services in the Belarusian capital.

According to a Reuters report, Belarus has detained more than 33,000 people since the August 2020 elections, which Lukashenko’s opponents and dissenters say was rigged. 

Hours after the sentencing of the two journalists, the United States Secretary of State has announced visa restrictions for 43 Belarusian officials identified as taking part in President Alexander Lukashenko’s “crackdown” on protesters and journalists.

Al Jazeera quoted US State Secretary Antony Blinken saying the US, “remains alarmed by the Lukashenka regime’s continuing violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, pro-democracy activists, and journalists.”


Facebook has blocked Australian users from viewing and sharing news content on its platform, in response to Australian government’s law demanding tech giants to pay publishers for their news content.

Australia’s proposed media law, which is being hailed as path-breaking, requires Google and Facebook to compensate news publishers for the content that appears on their sites. 

Announcing the move in a blog post, Facebook said, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

After months of disputes and mounting criticism against the tech platforms, Google has striked deals with news companies, including Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp. An article in The New York Times noted, “Google’s rush to pay up in Australia shows how regulation in a relatively small country — or just the threat of it — can sharply alter the behavior of a global tech behemoth that grew with impunity back home in the United States.”


An article titled, “Inside India’s War To Silence The Free Press”, published in Article14, a platform that discusses issues pertaining to India’s legal system, examines the actions of state authorities towards independent media. 

The author, Kavitha Iyer, writes that there has been a surge in violations against independent media since 2020 even as a “right-wing ecosystem issues rape and death threats and discredits any narrative against official interests.”

Iyer notes the sprouting of Youtube channels and Twitter handles that seek to “expose” the “anti-India conspiracy” laid by journalists such as Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, independent journalist Faye D’Souza, television anchor and owner of Mojo Story Barkha Dutt, senior editor of The Wire Arfa Khanum Sherwani, to name a few. One of the videos, she says, called for the hanging of the country’s prominent journalists.     

Detailing incidents of arrests, raids, threats, and sedition cases, the article juxtaposes the shrinking spaces for journalism and the impunity granted to pro-government media. 

“As more and more news consumers rely on non-legacy media outlets and independent reporters, a crackdown against such reporting has gathered pace,” writes Iyer.

Read the full article here –

Also read:

Media Freedom India Round-Up

Three videos about the press freedom situation in Belarus

Australia news code: What’s this row with Facebook and Google all about?

Media Freedom India Round-Up

A number of recent developments in India were widely debated from the perspective of media freedom. Although the incidents seemed to happen in isolation, among which some were tied to the ongoing farmer protests along Delhi borders, critics say that together they portray a grim picture of freedom of speech restrictions.

Intimidation of media practitioners and organizations 

Amidst coverage of farmer protests at the borders of the national capital, several journalists and media organisations faced FIRs, arrests, and raids in the past few weeks. Senior journalists from prominent media organisations including India Today and The Caravan were slapped with FIRs on charges of sedition for their reportage of the tractor rally that turned violent on January 26. 

In another incident, Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist, was detained by the police on January 30 while he was attending a conference by the Kisan Sangharsh Mazdoor Committee, and was subjected to physical assault by the police. Punia was released on bail on February 2.

More recently, the Enforcement Directorate raided the Delhi office of Newsclick, an online news portal, and the residences of its director and journalists for over 30 hours since the morning of February 9. The raids, conducted for alleged money laundering, were condemned by several press and media freedom watch dogs such as the Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

These developments, especially the sedition cases against almost a dozen journalists, raised questions on the extent of free press in the country. A recent newsletter by BOOM, a fact-checking website, said, “these journalists in the past week were slapped with sedition cases just for their disagreement with the official line.”

An article in Guardian argued that the police cases filed in succession cannot be a mere coincidence and that these legal actions have a clear aim of muzzling free press. “If honest reporting from the ground can be treated as “sedition” then there may soon be little serious journalism left in India.”

Read the Media Buddhi newsletter by BOOM here

Read the Guardian article here

‘Regulating’ Social Media 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, on January 26, issued several separate blocking orders to Twitter under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The orders, which included blocking of around 250 accounts, were partially and temporarily carried out by Twitter. 

Shortly after Twitter responded to the Indian government saying, “Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,” the government issued a notice warning Twitter of legal action. 

An analysis on the Twitter block order by The Wire pointed out two issues with the government’s notice. One, the tweets under contention do not attract Section 69A provisions. And two, there is a need for greater transparency with regard to Section 69A blocking orders. 

Meanwhile, an editorial in The Hindu stated, “while provocative posts have no place on any platform, free speech should not be hit.” However, the article also said that the hashtag (#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide) that the government wanted blocked was “not merely distasteful but also problematic, and indefensible on the grounds of freedom of speech.”

Read The Wire’s analysis here

Read The Hindu’s editorial here

Internet shutdowns and revocations 

High-speed internet has been frequently suspended in most areas near Delhi and Haryana borders – the farmer protest sites – since January 26, cutting off access to information for the protestors. This also proved to be difficult for journalists to relay reports from the field. 

Protestors and journalists had to travel miles away from the protest sites to get network connectivity and news updates. Groups of farmers, however, reportedly managed to get around the internet block through distributing newspapers, setting up loudspeakers on tractors, using WiFi from local residents, and so on. 

An article in the Mumbai Mirror, referring to a research paper, pointed out that shutdowns could actually make a crisis worse by amplifying dangerous speech and rumours. The central point of the article was that regular shutdowns go against the modern vision of digital India and our founding idea of constitutional, rights-respecting democracy. “It is irreconcilable that the world’s largest democracy can allow for internet shutdowns to be regularly ordered with an absence of any direct judicial oversight of these extraordinary powers.”

On February 7, Kashmir was restored with 4G internet 18 months after it was cut in August 2019. An analysis in The Kashmir Walla questioned who will be held accountable for the largest, undemocratic denial of access to the internet, which was a “collective punishment of people denied free access to the internet for what can only be described as thoughtcrimes.”

Even as the internet was being restored after more than a year, mobile internet was said to have been completely shut off in the southern districts of Kashmir. 

According to a report, India totaled 400 internet lockdowns in the last four years. 

Read the Mumbai Mirror article here

Read the Kashmir Walla analysis here

Freedom of Speech

Munawar Faruqui, a stand-up comedian, was arrested along with four others in Madhya Pradesh, for “insulting Hindu deities” in his jokes that he was yet to perform. Faruqui was released on bail more than a month after he was arrested on January 1. 

The complainant, the son of a local BJP MP, had“overheard his rehearsal jokes” and interrupted the show minutes after it began. The arrest was seen as arbitrary, as there was no clear reason behind the detention of others, who are yet to receive bail

Faruqui’s first bail plea was rejected on January 5. 

A TIME article detailed the slippery slope that Indian comedians tread upon these days. “Faruqui’s arrest is another example of the majoritarian wave sweeping India. A hardline group attacked him without provocation. Then the police, whose only evidence comes from a contested claim, took him to jail. Finally, the lower courts repeatedly denied him bail, which is commonly granted under trials in India, despite what seemed to be the absence of reasonable grounds to believe he had committed an offense,” said the article. 

Recently, a political web series on Amazon Prime Video called “Tandav”, came under legal fire for “hurting religious sentiments” in one scene. Referring to this, and Faruqui’s bail rejection, an editorial in The Indian Express wrote about the courts’ role in shrinking space for free speech – “In the frequent run-ins between religious belief and the freedom of speech and expression, the balance appears to be tipping away from constitutional freedom, and the courts are showing quiescence or complicity in this process.” 

Read the TIME article here.  

Read the Indian Express editorial here

Also read:

Why journalists in India are under attack

‘Playing with fire’: Twitter’s India snub sparks debate on compliance, free speech

Getting news in the times of internet shutdown

Data | Five journalists arrested in January 2021, the highest in any year since 1992

Backstory: The Kashmir Model to Discipline Indian Media