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ICC Note: India’s government has formed a new 10-member committee that will be tasked with regulating the online news media. Many journalists fear this move is an attempt by the BJP-led government to stifle press freedom and silence human rights critics ahead of next year’s national elections. Among those human rights critics is Christians groups publishing report of rising persecution across India.

04/11/2018 India (UCAN) – India’s federal government is planning to regulate online news media amid fears it aims to tame those who dare to challenge its policies.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry of the government run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) constituted a 10-member committee on April 4 to recommend new regulations.

Social activists and journalists suspect the move aims to stifle press freedom ahead of the national election next year.

The BJP’s rivals are busy highlighting the failure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fulfil his own elections promises five years ago, making the election decisive for Modi’s political career.

Tayab Yousuf, a student of mass communication at the University of Calcutta, said the government fears that digital media are witnessing a boom and leaving them untamed could prove catastrophic.

“Though most television channels and newspapers are toeing the government line, digital media are proving to be an alternative news source where propaganda is countered and facts highlighted,” said Yousuf.

The move to regulate online media reveals the intentions of the government, said Abhinandann Sekhri of online news portal newslaundry.com.

“Regulation is important but the people who have been chosen [for the committee] reveal that the government’s intent is not to regulate but to tame online media. Here the government clearly says that it is going to control online media,” Sekhri said.

Most committee members are top bureaucrats from the home and electronics and information technology ministries and the departments of legal affairs and industrial policy and promotion. It also has representatives from the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Indian Broadcasters Federation.

“The government should stay away from attempting to regulate news organizations in any media,” said Naresh Fernandes, editor of online news portal scroll.in.

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org