Given how decomposed the corpses were, officials in Bihar suspected they had come from further upstream — possibly from Uttar Pradesh, the highly populated state where Gaur is based. So he sent a team of 30 reporters to over 27 districts to investigate.
“I have never seen anything like this in my 35-year-long career,” Gaur told CNN Business.
“State officials have tried to stop our coverage several times in the past few days, and have even threatened us with a court case,” he added.
To get the real story, many media outlets have increasingly been doing some traditional shoe-leather journalism.
“Mainstream media, particularly broadcast media, really glosses over the Modi government’s failures, even while appearing neutral,” said Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO of Newslaundry, an award-winning independent news website that focuses on media and journalism.
But papers like Dainik Bhaskar “have not pulled their punches and have really gone after the government” with their coverage of the pandemic, even as some prominent TV channels remain as “sycophantic as ever,” he added.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, three of the top local language newspapers — Sandesh, Divya Bhaskar and Gujarat Samachar — have consistently questioned the official statistics on the second wave through their coverage.
The newspaper said its journalists dug out the data by going to districts and municipal corporations.
Have Indian media owners really become bolder?
This type of accountability reporting hasn’t been the norm at many leading Indian media outlets for the past few years. But it is hard to sell the government’s narrative to readers as Covid-19 cases continue to rise uncontrollably across the country.
Promoters of many TV channels and newspapers need to stay in the good books of the ruling party, said Sekhri of Newslaundry. They “tread on eggshells” when it comes to the government because they need favorable regulatory policies for their various businesses, which can range from telecom to oil, he said.
However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many media platforms to be servile when there is mounting public anger against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Sekhri added.
“They realize their reporters will get beaten up if they go on the streets,” and not report the truth, he said.
There’s also the mental toll that doing such reporting takes. “If you are not mentally strong, you will not be able to stand the scenes that unfold in the field,” said Dhaval Bharwad, deputy chief photographer for Divya Bhaskar, which is also owned by the Dainik Bhaskar Group.
Despite the challenges, many Indian journalists appear ready to continue trying to get to the truth. In the capital, Delhi, the magazine Outlook India created a stir on Twitter last week, when it used the cover of its new issue to criticize the government for inaction, styling it in the form of a missing persons poster.
“This is not an act of bravery on our part,” Ruben Banerjee, the editor-in-chief of Outlook, told CNN Business. “We are just objectively reporting. There is a sense of abandonment in the country. “
— Jyoti Jha contributed to this report.