Communication & Media Studies

India’s Overt and Covert Chilling of Press Freedom

India’s Overt and Covert Chilling of Press Freedom

Since assuming office, the Modi government has made at least seven separate attempts to set up an agency with the mandate to monitor citizens’ social media activity and where possible, influence public attitudes, says the author.


Sukumar Muralidharan, Professor, Jindal School of Journalism and Communication, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.


Of the 50,000 mobile phones hit by the Pegasus spyware scandal, it was revealed last year some 1,000 belonged to journalists, civil rights activists and public figures in India. Another 800 or so were from the neighbouring state of Pakistan, according to The Wire.

Pegasus, Israeli software intended to help government agencies fight terrorism and crime, was reportedly being used by governments around the world to spy on people for reasons unrelated to national security. The developer of the software, Israel’s NSO Group, has pleaded innocence. The agencies deploying the snooping software remain mostly unidentified.

Now, more than five years after India is believed to have contracted to acquire Pegasus, a committee headed by a retired judge of India’s Supreme Court, and comprising three technical experts, will inquire into the Pegasus allegations.

Caught in Pegasus’ web in India were two founders of The Wire, an editor engaged in the specialised field of diplomacy and at least three frequent contributors, along with reporters and commentators on strategic affairs from India’s most important daily newspapers.

Other targets included journalists reporting from some of India’s most conflict-prone zones, such as Kashmir, the north-east, and the states subject to left-wing insurgencies, such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Investigative journalists who had uncovered evidence of malfeasance in awarding official contracts were on the list, as were journalists who had reported on business connections the current Indian regime is believed to be promoting.

Rajeev Sharma, a freelance reporter on defence and strategic matters, was arrested in September 2020 on charges of espionage. His name had earlier been revealed to have been on the surveillance list. In December 2020, he was granted bail after the police failed to file a case against him. In July 2021 he was arrested on charges of money-laundering by an agency tasked with the investigation of financial crimes. He was granted bail by the Delhi High Court in January this year.

Though the fact of surveillance was established beyond ambiguity, there has been little clarity on how long it has been carried out.

Published in: The Wire

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