Hours before the lockdown, Modi urged print media owners and publishers to refrain from negative COVID coverage

About six hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-week nationwide lockdown on March 24, he personally called on more than twenty owners and editors of mainstream print media to publish positive articles on the pandemic of COVID-19. The owners and publishers represented media organizations working in 11 different languages, including senior members of national news houses such as the Indian Express Group, the Hindu Group and the Punjab Kesari Group. According to a report on Modi’s official website, the prime minister asked attendees to “act as a link between government and people and provide ongoing feedback” on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The website further noted that during the interaction, which took place via video conference and lasted an hour and a half, the Prime Minister stressed that “it is important to combat the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumors. Citizens must be assured that the government is committed to countering the impact of COVID-19. “

Through the interaction, the prime minister’s website reported, Modi sat down with a notebook and pen and could be seen taking notes when attendees made suggestions. The exercise almost represented journalists as part of government, as opposed to being members of an institution whose job involved questioning the government about its shortcomings. Instead, most owners and editors seemed grateful for the exchange. The Prime Minister’s website reported that reporters had pledged to “work on the Prime Minister’s suggestions to publish inspiring and positive stories” on COVID-19. After the interaction, some owners and editors in the meeting took to Twitter to to thank Prime Minister for involving them in the video conference and soliciting their opinions, while others posted reports of the meeting on the front page the next day, with photos of themselves and Modi on the screen of TV.

After the conference, I spoke to nine owners and editors of news houses, national and regional media, who participated in the interaction. Almost all of them seemed in love with what some described as an important “gesture” from Modi, of considering their opinions.

I asked owners and editors if their interaction with Modi, given his suggestion to post positive stories, would affect their editorial judgment when posting an article critical of government policies to combat the novel coronavirus. . Only two of them explicitly said they would publish a review article despite the interaction, while three said they would not but for different reasons, not due to the interaction. One of them asked me to omit references to such questions while referring to our conversation in this report. Others declined to comment at all.

But a close examination of their organizations’ subsequent COVID coverage revealed that Modi’s words of caution got the job done – the newspapers were clearly not critical of the government’s response to the virus. Coverage of the public health crisis by these organizations contained little mention of the poor planning and disastrous implementation of the lockdown, or the failure of the government to prepare for the pandemic, for example by stockpiling medical supplies. crucial for healthcare workers, despite early warnings from the World Health Organization.

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