India does not have a spotless history of free speech.
In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a 21-month emergency during which constitutional rights were suspended, the press was censored, and journalists were jailed.
Journalists reporting from small towns and rural areas have long been vulnerable to violent attacks.
But experts say the journalism industry has never before faced such serious pressures on so many different fronts.
Despite India’s reputation for a vast and vibrant news industry, most of the major outlets today are owned by large family-controlled conglomerates which also invest in other large industries, and some of which are politically affiliated, an RSF study found.
This level of concentration and “cross ownership” means journalists often feel the need to censor themselves and avoid reporting on “forbidden subjects,” Mr. Bastard says.
In December, billionaire and close Modi ally Gautam Adani, acquired New Delhi Television or NDTV, long considered one of the last and most prominent independent voices in mainstream Indian television.
A number of high-profile journalists quit soon after.
“This is the end of a kind of pluralism in mainstream media,” Mr. Bastard says.
While a number of independent news organizations persist, they are generally small and publish mostly in English, leaving many average Indians consuming news of dubious objectivity appearing on social media or in pro-government media.
As in many other countries, there’s been a pattern in India whereby fake news peddled on social media often seeps into prime time debate.
Days before the BBC raids, for instance, TV news channels circulated a claim that the BBC was funded by China, India’s historic rival.
In such an environment, journalists have faced increased online abuse, and fear of persecution.
Free Speech Collective, an Indian advocacy group, reports that 154 journalists were “arrested, detained, interrogated or served show cause notices for their professional work” between 2010 and 2020.
More than 60 of those cases were recorded in 2020.
“Those who boldly stand their ground are targeted and tamed,” says Vinod K. Jose, who until recently was the executive editor at The Caravan, a Delhi-based magazine.
Many legacy outlets “have chosen to limit critical coverage to their opinion pages, but finding a lead and investigating it are more important for an Indian newsroom when the government is trying to control the narratives,” he argues.
Meanwhile, several regions have become “information black holes,” Mr. Bastard adds, “and that is not worthy of a democracy.”