New Delhi: Upset at the publication of a news items contradicting a key aspect of the Uri attack that a senior army officer had provided to the media, the defence ministry has told editors “all contents relating to the Indian Army, irrespective of ‘source’ of inputs, and intended to be published, should be pre-verified from the offices of media centres in commands & corps HQ or from this office through your defence correspondents”.
The MoD was responding to a story in the Indian Express on September 21 which refuted the claim made by Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, director general of military operations, in interviews to journalists the day before that the weapons recovered from the four slain terrorists who killed 18 Indian soldiers at Uri on September 18 bore “Pakistani markings”.
Writing in the Indian Express, Sagnik Chowdhury and Praveen Swami reported that:
Four Kalashnikov rifles used by the terrorists, and handed over by the military to investigators Monday, bore no markings or insignia of any kind, sources familiar with the ongoing investigation said. There were also no military markings on barrel-fired grenades destroyed by the Army Monday, or on launchers fitted on the Kalashnikovs.
Though the defence ministry now says the DGMO never made this claim – and cites the formal press release he had issued on the evening September 18 to buttress its point, the fact is that several media outlets had quoted him saying so to TV channels for more than a day without the MoD or General Singh feeling the need to issue a denial.
The Wire has learned that not only has the director, media in the MoD, Abhijit Mitra – who is a serving colonel in the Indian army – now demanded that the newspaper “publish an errata and apology for having published a report full of falsehood” but that henceforth it submit reports on the army to be “pre-verified” by the relevant corps or command media office.
The MoD’s demand has no legal basis – no government body has the right to censor or screen news before it is published, and freedom of the press is enshrined in the law via the constitutional right to free speech.
Israel is the only country with an otherwise unrestricted media where all media outlets – including bloggers and foreign journalists based there – are subject to a military censor when it comes to the reporting of news about Israeli military matters. Military censorship in Israel began in the 1960s as part of an understanding between the army and the media houses but eventually got established as a legal prerogative.