“Space For Media Freedom Rapidly Shrinking In India”
Despite the growing use of social media, the space for critical and independent voices is rapidly shrinking and could get worse, especially with the return of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing BJP into power, says Dhruv Rathee, a YouTuber.
In an interview with DW, he said countering fake news and hate speech was becoming increasingly difficult in the age of social media: “Yes, it [the space for media] is going to get worse. The silver lining in this bleak scenario is that there are a few independent voices against the establishment, but the government is cracking down on them and has tried to pressure them through tax raids.”
Rathee, 24, said online attacks have affected some people, including journalists. “People like Ravish Kumar [a television anchor] were trolled badly. Somebody got hold of his telephone number and began leaving frightening messages. But honestly, I have not experienced it.”
Rathee is perhaps protected from right-wing Hindu extremists because he lives abroad, but the YouTuber does not believe that living out of India undermines his credibility as an opinion-maker: “It does not significantly affect my work. Yes, I could have had more ground reports, if I was living in India, but then I can always fly down when I want to.”
Rathee has a degree in mechanical engineering from Germany and a master’s degree in renewable energy engineering, but he is better known for his videos through which he hopes to educate the masses on political, economic, social and environmental issues.
“I am one-third journalist, one-third activist and one-third YouTuber, and it has been an educating experience,” Rathee said.
Originally from the northern Indian state of Haryana, he currently lives in Germany, preferring to keep his exact location confidential.
Rathee began making videos of animated clay toys when he was just 9 or 10 years old. As a teenager, he started a video blog to document his travels but decided to give it a political twist in 2014, when he felt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not living up to its promises after winning the polls that year.
But is that helping? “I would like to think so.” he said, adding, “Most mainstream media is in the hands of the government. They position themselves and set the narrative for the government. Save a few exceptions, they are running after noisy debates and chaos. I would have been equally critical if another government came to power.”