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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 9, 2021 4:30am-5:01am BST

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the japanese government has said that spectators will not be allowed to attend events at venues in the capital. the government is placing tokyo under a new state of emergency from next week because of rising coronavirus infections. president biden has defended the withdrawal of us forces from afghanistan at the end of august, saying he could not send another generation of americans to fight there. mr biden said washington had achieved its initial goal of punishing the perpetrators of the september 11th attacks. but he admitted there was uncertainty with the taliban continuing to gain ground. a row has broken out in spain, over meat consumption after one spanish government minister suggested his fellow countrymen should eat less meat for their own health and the planet's. now on bbc news, hardtalk.
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welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. india prides itself on being the world's biggest democracy, but when it comes to those prerequisites of genuine democracy, freedom of expression and a free media, is india falling short? prime minister narendra modi understands the power of information, but is he using his own power to manipulate the flow of information? well, my guest is n ram, director of the hindu publishing group and an influential voice in the indian media. are cherished freedoms under threat?
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n ram in chennai, welcome to hardtalk. it's a pleasure, mr sackur. it's a pleasure to have you on the programme. if i may say so, you are a leading member of india's media elite. you have been for years. so how would you characterise the freedom of the media in india today? what state is it in? there was a time, stephen, when i thought that india was in an enviable position, when it came to media freedom, independence and also the state of development of the media, certainly in comparison with the most developing countries. that's because that was about a0 years ago when we were liberated from the enslavement during the emergency, i remember that very well.
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and new opportunities opened up for accelerated development. it was... the environment was capacious. it was open, it was welcoming, and journalism seemed to have found the right causes. but if i said that today, i would be accused of providing fake news. but i dare say to many viewers around the world, india does look a little bit enviable when it comes to your media landscape. you have a cacophony of different voices. online, television, radio, newspapers, all sorts of different opinions are aired 24/7 in india. to an outsider, that looks pretty free. but there is a great deal of pressure. there's a great deal of attempts to restrict freedom and independence of the media. and i'm sorry to say that large sections of the so—called mainstream media are falling in line with what the executive power in the country wants, particularly the indian government, the modi dispensation.
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so that's a general perception among all those who value freedom and independence of the news media. it is true that we have many resources. it is true that there are many spaces for the expression of opinion. but when the opinion gets out of hand for the government, as they see it, then they crack down. and i don't think it can succeed completely because india is too diverse and pluralistic. and there is there is still quite a lot of resistance. but at the moment, something is weighing down on the news media in india. surely what the modi government is doing is simply using india's constitution and the law and, where it feels thatjournalists and media groups are overstepping their mark, they turn to the courts. you believe in the courts, too, don't you? yes, but the courts have not responded to the challenges in a consistent way, i'm afraid to say.
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some high courts provided relief to journalists and media organisations which have gone challenging some of the restrictive rules. some of the actions are arbitrary. the law is applied in different ways, depending on the political colour or the people involved. those are issues that we are confronted with. but the laws, as you say, there are laws and many of these laws were not illiberally applied earlier, so we thought, but today, some of those laws, for example, the law of criminal defamation, the law of sedition, 124a of the indian penal code, which was inserted into our legal system, as late as... ..as early as 1870. and that's continued more or less unchanged since that day. and then... and the new rules that have
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been brought into force, that have been notified and brought into force, to check and restrain the...what is put out by digital news media and also ott platforms, an unfortunate name, but you're talking about streaming platforms like netflix and disney hotstar and so forth. and overall, there is a sense that they're weighing. . .that these laws are being used, i would even say manipulated, because the lower courts... hang on. yeah, what you're saying is very important, though. i mean, you sit there in chennai as a journalist of some standing, but are you saying to me that you no longer have faith in the independence of india's courts? cos that's an explosive thing to say. i must say, in all fairness, that when... in 2019, i did the rafale deal investigation, six—part investigative series in the hindu. the supreme court of india came out with a very good order
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because the government alleged that these were stolen documents. but the court upheld not only our right to publish these documents, but also admitted it in evidence. but that's precisely my point, mr ram, that you have been... you have been backed by the courts in the recent past. there is reason to believe that whatever your views of mr modi and his government and his intentions toward the media, that your court system continues to follow the law and to follow the notion that india has freedom of expression. no, because i was one of the fortunate ones, but manyjournalists languish injail, for example, siddique kappan, in uttar pradesh. he's a working journalist who went to investigate an alleged sexual offence involving a minor. and he was, you know, he was imprisoned and he has been kept injail for many months. and there are many others.
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sedition charges have been filed against senior journalists for writing about or tweeting or whatever about the farmers�* agitation. so i'm, you know, that was a fortunate case. and i said it because i was being fair to the judiciary. so i want to be clear, then, how far you think the danger goes to journalism in india today. because i'm very mindful the organisation reporters without borders, rsf, as it's known, has labelled india, quote, "one of the world's most "dangerous countries for journalists. " and we do know that in the recent past, there's been a serious uptick in assaults on journalists and the numbers ofjournalists killed in recent years has also risen. so are you saying, as director of the hindu group, for example, that you fear for the lives of some of your journalists in the field who may be working on, for example, investigations that challenge authority? yes, it depends on the territory, the states where this happens and we are largely
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in the south, where i think on the whole we are much better protected, i think, so far as the hindu and its staff and its journalists are concerned. but on the danger to journalists, i was looking up the data published by the cpj, the committee to protectjournalists. and to be precise, 52 journalists have been murdered since 1992, according to the data they have, and they were murdered... ..in relation to their work. that's how they count these numbers. and also, india is... the figures in what is called the cpj's global impunity index, wherejournalists are murdered in connection with their work and their cases are not resolved. and india has been over the last...more than a decade, i would say, unfortunately, a founding and permanent member of this club of shame, because these cases have not been resolved. and even recently, some journalists have been targeted
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in states like uttar pradesh, have been physically assaulted. 0ne young journalist, prominent female journalist in india today, who does quite a lot of work for western publications and media organisations, rana ayyub, she's currently facing charges of provoking riot and inciting religious enmity. and that's based on something that she actually put on her twitter feed. she says this. she says, "i cannot be a journalist. "we have become enemies of the state. "i now have to keep a low profile, hide, "switch off my phone, all in an attempt to "protect myself against a vindictive regime." now, she is clearly extremely upset about her treatment. but i just wonder whether you believe that that is a case
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that is representative of something much larger? she's an... i know her, she's an extremely courageous journalist, upstanding journalist who does not compromise her independence, her right to investigate and to express her opinions and within the framework of the law, if it's reasonably construed and reasonably implemented. but i wouldn't say it's completely representative. she's extremely courageous and, you know, not everyone is like that. the policies also have a chilling effect on journalism, so you do self—censorship. you restrain yourself, you still your hand or your, you know, when you key it in... and there are many like that. and the mainstream media, the bulk of them, have largely taken the safer option today because they don't know... for many reasons — economic, political, just fear of alienating the central government. and also, i must add that there are states where, you know, the chief minister and other powerful leaders are quite intolerant.
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isn't that... ? yeah, but what you just said is actually rather important. rather than couching all of this as a fundamental challenge to freedom of expression and free journalism, surely there needs to be some self—criticism here from journalists and media owners across india. many media organisations appear very willing and ready to offer lockstep support to the modi government. nobody is forcing them to do that. it appears they are volunteering to do that. i couldn't agree more. this is a very familiar criticism expressed in the social media and also in the digital news media. there's some very fine voices in the digital media space — publications like the wire, publications like scroll, quint, the caravan magazine and so on. and i would like to add frontline to that list, the economic and political weekly and so on. but by and large, that's not... it's not representative
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of the response from the news media in india. no, but surely one point here is — and we go back to the very opening premise about india being a democracy — what we know from elections is that mr modi is the dominant popular politician in india today. we know that many readers of many media organisations�* platforms, such as your own, probably vote for mr modi and many media owners and journalists see an interest in attracting readership, attracting advertising. and all of that, for many of them, persuades them that there's merit in being loyal to the current government. yes, they do, but then you see many examples around the world of elected leaders turning autocratic, authoritarian. you saw what happened to father stan swamy. you know, i mean, most people believe those cases
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were completely false when he was brought under the ambit of the unlawful activities prevention act, where he was accused of being a terrorist and so on. so it's part of an overall situation. this is not the first time we've encountered authoritarianism in india. we've done it before during the emergency. i'm old enough to remember that, 1975 to 1977. but this is a new kind of... yeah, yeah. i won't pull punches. it's authoritarianism and it can be electoral. they appeal to the sovereignty of the people, but institutions have come under pressure. many institutions, the election commission of india, the central bureau of investigation, the enforcement directorate, the income tax department. you know, we just got to look at the all—out offensive against one of the few english language television news channels. if you want me, i will name it.
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they're doing a fine job, have come under a terrific offensive, all—out offensive to just kill them. and this is something fairly recent... listen, i hear your passion on this question of maintaining and fighting for the independence ofjournalism. but it appears to me that you and many others then move on and conflate that particular issue with another one, which is the modi government's determination to better regulate the internet and to impose new regulations on, for example, key social media platforms. you seem to see that as part of what you've just described as the authoritarian trend, whereas the government would say that it's simply trying to ensure that india's online culture doesn't become dangerous, full of misinformation, lies and provocations. and surely, that's
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a very fine motive. these intermediary... ..intermediaries rule 2021 actually involves three categories. one is the what they call social intermediaries, the messaging intermediaries and the media—related intermediaries. whatsapp, telegram, signal are in the first category. second would be facebook, instagram, twitter. they can take care of themselves. but i'm primarily concerned, or we are primarily concerned, with the other two — digital news media, like the wire, and also the law. the rules are very ambiguous. it's not clear what digital news media they apply to, except they say that e—papers, replicas of printed papers are exempt.
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but other than that, you know, today much of it is digital. so, you know, it's not clear what it applies to... all right, but let'sjust deal with the principle, the principle the government feels very strongly that it's time to better regulate the internet and to the information flow across the digital space. i'm going to quote you the words of the just resigned law and justice and technology minister, mr prasad, who said, "the culture of india varies "like its large geography. "in certain scenarios," he went on, "with the amplification "of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, "especially with the menace of fake news." and that, he says, is the motivation for the government introducing its new guidelines. you must surely have sympathy with his sentiment. no, i don't, because under the cover or in the guise of regulating social media intermediaries, they are trying to bring in, or smuggle in,
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i use that word, digital news media, like, you know, which are more defined, more... they resist the government's pressures somewhat better than the mainstream media. so they have been suddenly brought into this net and they have now been burdened with a three—tier regulatory system. first one is regulation by themselves. second by an industry body headed by a retired supreme court or high court judge. and the third is, you know, anyone can complain, there is an oversight mechanism comprising an interministerial committee of bureaucrats, or sitting on top like the supreme court of india, for this and they will finally decide, you know, whether the content is all right, needs to be blocked or changed or you need to be prosecuted...
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as i understand it, particularly when it comes to the new social media platforms, the likes of twitter, the government retains the right... if internal watchdog systems don't work, the government retains the right in an urgent situation to demand and enforce the blocking of material that it regards as objectionable. but i would ask you, do you not believe that the government does need — like many around the world — does need to act to better regulate the internet? cos we've seen in india that fake news, misinformation can spread like wildfire and it can actually prove to be deeply dangerous, for example, to inter—communal relations. i think you can have something for those media, i'm not talking about the news media here, but those social media, you can have something like what the leveson inquiry came up with, that self—regulation certified by the government, underwritten by statute or underpinned by statute. that may be all right for them, this, because they have
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their own rules, twitter, facebook, and so on. not that they are satisfied with their performance. they have different standards. sometimes they let too much or too much harm spread in the internet space. i agree. i concede that. so action needs to be taken, doesn't it? to quote the atlantic magazine, in a recent in—depth feature, they said, "india is facing information wars of an "unprecedented nature and scale. "indians are being bombarded with fake news and "divisive propaganda." if that is anything like the truth, then something does have to be done and it's incumbent on government to find a solution. i think, first of all, i think that's exaggerated. that's an exaggerated assessment. i think in comparison with, say, the united states, india is not being bombarded in anything like that by fake news. it is true there is a lot of disinformation which is deliberate, which is scaled up on the social media. but, you know, there are laws that can take care of that. and regulation is fine in that respect. these companies also have their rules, which, you know... but the problem is the government is not, the central government or the union government in india, is not even—handed. they objected to twitter, for example, putting a manipulated media tag
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on the bjp spokespersons because they are not even in the government. but they objected to that. but they demanded that twitter block the posts, posts of many who covered, say, the farmers�* agitation. so it's not even—handed and nobody trusts this government or any government, for that matter, to be even—handed in the enforcement, in the implementation of these rules, of this regulation. that's the problem. yes, i get the message you're very wary of the kinds of legislation and new regulation that the modi government is pushing forward. ijust want to end, if i may, by asking you to reflect on what we've learned from covid. india has been so very badly
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affected by the covid pandemic. your death toll has now risen beyond 400,000 — and that's the official toll. the unofficial one, i think, is way higher than that. what do you think covid has told us about the dangers of misinformation and fake news and the spreading of so—called fact, which is anything but? what have we learned from india? we don't know enough about how disinformation affected people's actions or responses, but my impression is it's not been... the anti—vaccine movement, for example, is not on a scale that would cause major concern. the indian crisis is primarily the work of our own, you know, our own doing because there was triumphalism, there was a misreading of the situation. many experts claim that we had achieved herd immunity based on some scanty surveys, serologic surveys, and the government proclaimed that india had vanquished, modi government proclaimed publicly to the world economic forum that we are one,
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that we are unique in the world and so on. so it is really hubris. but let me ask you this. i mean, you talk of hubris from the government, but earlier in this interview, you were also talking about the interventions the government makes, which do sew fear into the hearts of some journalists who feel threatened and intimidated. when it comes to challenging the government's official death toll, when it comes to challenging the nature of the vaccine roll—out with the government's promises to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year looking highly unlikely, do you thinkjournalists right now in india have the ability, maybe even the right word would be courage, to really dig deep into what is happening? it's hard to answer that question, but i think not enough. in more recent times,
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you know that more than 500, many more than 500 journalists have died, large number of them in the call of duty, their journalistic duty, their work. these numbers are being totted up, but... and many of them died because they did not believe the government, because they went to the crematoriums and counted bodies coming in. and that was put out. but by and large, it's the economist, it's the new york times that has come up with the death toll. it's not any major indian media organisation which has either had either the means, the data skills, perhaps, or the courage — i would go as far as saying that — to come up with an overall picture of the death toll, so... but also, stephen, may i just add very quickly? i think the pandemic, the covid—19 pandemic is also, as many people have commented, showing up the limits of power in india as well, because, as a new york times article put it some months ago, you can't arrest or torture the virus. so right now, there's quite a lot of reporting on what's happening on the ground
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but we have not done a good enough job. hello there. the next few days look pretty unsettled, with low pressure always nearby, so we're likely to see sunshine and showers notjust for friday, but into the weekend and into the start of next week, too. so, for today, these showers will be heavy, much like they were on thursday, and you'll see on the pressure charts we're in between
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systems, and there's barely any isobars, so the winds are light and the showers will be slow—moving again. so, quite a bit of cloud to start this morning, particularly across scotland, where we'll see some patchy rain in the north—east. the sunshine will get going, though, the best of it in central and eastern areas — and this is where we'll see most of the heavy showers into the afternoon, again, some with hail and thunder mixed in. an area of more persistent rain will push into the south—west later in the day. temperature—wise, 20—211 celsius. now, for wimbledon for friday and into the weekend, there'll be a lot of dry weather around with some sunshine, but there's always the chance of catching a heavy shower. now, as we move through friday night, those heavy showers across central and eastern areas will tend to fade away, many places will turn dry with variable cloud and clear spells. but this weather front will bring in persistent rain to south wales and the south—west of england, slowly moving its way eastwards. temperature—wise, most places sticking in double figures. so, for this weekend, again, it's one of sunny spells and scattered showers, though we'll have that area of rain across southern areas for a while, but that will clear away during the course of saturday, then all areas will see sunny spells and showers. that area of rain could bring some persistent, fairly heavy rain to central and southern england through the morning,
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eventually clearing away. elsewhere, after a rather cloudy start, the sunshine will appear, and then, these showers will get going — and again, some of them will be heavy with some hail and thunder, they'll be relatively slow—moving. temperature—wise, 17—22 celsius. as we move out of saturday into sunday, a new area of low pressure pushes into western parts of the uk — that'll bring enhanced showers to the northern and western areas in particular. again, some of them will be heavy and merge together to produce longer spells of rain in places. probably the better area to see the driest conditions will be central and eastern parts of england, where we'll see the best temperatures, 22—23 celsius — otherwise, the high teens further north and west. very unsettled into the start of next week, as well, particularly england and wales could see some very wet weatherfor a while. then from midweek onwards, it looks like high pressure wants to build in.
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this is bbc news, i'm samantha simmonds with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. the olympic torch arrives in tokyo, two weeks before the games — but no spectators are allowed. police in haiti say 28 foreigners were involved in the president's assassination on wednesday, most of them colombians — but it's still not clear who planned the attack. translation: we already have the physical— translation: we already have the physical perpetrators - translation: we already have the physical perpetrators in - the physical perpetrators in hand and we are looking for the intellectual perpetrators. the risk of severe illness or death from covid—19 is "extremely low" in children and young people, according to new research. and a plea to eat less meat causes beef in spain, as a minister suggests spaniards should cut their meat consumption and help save the planet.

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