The Union health ministry seems to be tired of answering difficult questions from dogged health reporters on the COVID-19 outbreak in India. On Wednesday, several journalists said that they were not allowed to ask questions as usual at the daily press briefing by the health ministry. The chance went only to journalists from state-run DD News and pro-government ANI.
This came a day after the Centre sought a Supreme Court directive that no media outlet publish any news related to the coronavirus outbreak without checking the facts with the government. Chief Justice SA Bobde later issued an order saying the court did not intend to interfere with free discussion, but directed the media to refer to and publish the “official version” of the developments on the coronavirus outbreak.
A journalist present at the media briefing, which lasted less than 15 minutes, told HuffPost India over the phone that “as soon as the briefing ended, DD News was called out and the person with DD asked the question. Then ANI”. Other reporters who raised their hands were not given a chance to ask questions, this person, who did not want to be named, added.
“So one question from DD News, one from ANI, one from the media WhatsApp group and one from someone else. This was so hurried that I could not even register who the fourth person to ask the question was,” the reporter added.
Another journalist, who is also part of the PIB’s WhatsApp group, told HuffPost India that there was initially a message that only ANI and DD News reporters would be allowed to attend the briefing on Wednesday. After journalists protested on the group, the person said, there was another message from PIB that everyone could attend as usual.
The reporters also pointed out that Wednesday’s news briefing was much shorter than usual. A video of the press briefing, available on PIB’s Youtube page, is only about 13.23 minutes long. In contrast, Tuesday’s briefing ran for about 49 minutes and Monday’s was 42 minutes.
Several health reporters from various media outlets have been vocal about thhe flaws in the government’s fight against COVID-19, including limited testing and shortage of protective material and other resources for health workers.
HuffPost India has reached out to Shekhar Gupta, president of the Editors’ Guild of India, and will update this story once he responds.
Several journalists who are either part of the WhatsApp group or attended the briefing on Wednesday also tweeted about the incident before and after the press conference.