In the wake of the arrest of Mohammad Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, a number of journalists and representatives of media bodies met at the Press Club of India on June 4 to discuss the clamping down on press freedom in the country today.
Siddharth Vardarajan, founding editor of The Wire, was among those who addressed the gathering and highlighted the ongoing suppression of press freedom in the country as well as the threat Zubair poses to the ruling dispensation’s goal of manipulating public opinion.
Describing Zubair’s “illegal” arrest and harassment as a “resort to gross violations of legal procedure”, Vardarajan opined that such attacks are only going to escalate in the near future.
“We are in the middle of a full-blown attack on media freedom,” he warned, “And we are, I regret to say, still some distance away from the peak of this offensive.”
Highlighting the growth of ‘fake news’ and disinformation in the country since the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as the concomitant “weaponisation” of social media to this end, Vardarajan stressed the importance of fact-checking platforms such as Alt News in combating disinformation in real time, which he said was the very reason for Zubair being targeted by the powers that be.
“The reason why Mohammad Zubair and Alt News have been targeted is because Alt News‘ consistent debunking of false lies and malicious propaganda has become a major roadblock in the government’s attempts to manipulate public opinion,” he said.
Watch Vardarajan’s full address below.