Ever since the BJP government assumed power in May this year, private news outlets have been unhappy with the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sidelined independent media houses from governance by restricting exposure only to state-owned media organisations.
Instead of letting the entire media sector participate in official events, as was the norm previously, the BJP-led government has chosen India's public broadcaster Prasar Bharti-owned All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan News to carry out Modi's messages and transcripts of the events attended by the PM and his government.
Unlike private media units, the public broadcasters lack "combative and questioning platform," Reuters reported. Modi had shrugged off private media firms back in 2002, when he had to face immense criticism for Gujarat communal riots.
It's not just the Indian media that portray him in a bad light, Modi had lost his image as a politician in the eyes of the international media as well. The media, local and international, had extensively covered the 2002 Gujarat riots and blamed then CM Modi for the alleged genocide that took lives of thousands.
Modi was questioned over and over again for failing to contain the riots. Modi's relationship with the media tanked in 2007, when he walked out of an interview with a private news channel after being asked "whether he regretted the 2002 incidents".
The bitterness seems to exist even today as Modi keeps private media at arm's length by denying permission to them to participate in any official events, either within the country or abroad. This has certainly upset private news organisations, who find the distance between the government and media an obstruction to their work.
"There has been a lot of communication from the government, but it has been very top-down. It's been a one-way street," The Hindu editor N Ravi said.
NDTV political editor Rahul Shrivastava, who has covered the Prime Minister's Office since mid-1990s, holds a similar view. "Even for the positives of the government to be brought out, a certain amount of access is necessary. Now you have to accept [information] as it comes – both in terms and quality and quantity," he said.
By blocking private news outlets and opting for social networking sites—Twitter and Facebook—for relaying his messages and giving limited access to only public broadcaster, Modi is in a way devoicing the Indian media, which has, in a way, lost the power to question the Centre.
"Critics see it as one symptom of a broader leadership style under Modi that has weakened opponents, sidelined ministers and concentrated power in the Prime Minister's Office," Reuters reports.
However, the Modi government disagrees; it says the government has in fact given more freedom to the Indian media.
"I think everyone must welcome it. He has not banned anybody, his programmes are telecast live, practically on all channels, so where is the issue? There is complete freedom in our regime," I&B minister Prakash Javadekar said.