Newspaper distributors are seen in Amritsar, India, on April 22, 2019. The Indian government recently stopped placing advertisements in three major newspaper groups in apparent retaliation for their coverage. (AFP/Narinder Nanu)

Indian government drops advertisements from major newspaper groups in apparent retaliation for coverage

June 28, 2019 3:20 PM ET

New York, June 28, 2019 -- The Indian government has cut off advertisements to three major newspaper groups--The Times Group, ABP Group, and The Hindu--in apparent retaliation for their critical news coverage, according to news reports.

The government stopped placing advertisements in the groups' papers prior to the beginning of India's general elections in April, according to a report in Indian news website The Print. Speaking to Reuters, unnamed executives and officials at the newspaper groups confirmed the advertising stoppage and said it was likely a response to their outlets' coverage.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot claim to be the leader of a democracy if his administration continues to punish news organizations for critical coverage," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. "Withholding advertisements is a suffocating measure and a clear effort to influence editorial decisions, and amounts to censorship."

An unnamed executive at Bennet, Coleman & Co., which controls The Times Group, told Reuters that government advertisements comprised 15 percent of the group's advertising revenue.

The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, which oversees the agency responsible for advertisements from the federal government, and spokespeople within the ministry did not immediately respond to emails from CPJ requesting comment.

A spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party denied to Reuters that the cuts were retaliatory, and told the news agency, "The suggestion that the BJP is throttling free press is ridiculous."

CPJ has previously documented how central government advertising bans have been used as a form of retaliation against critical coverage in India.

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