On the account of “deadly threat” from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “nationalism”, India has slipped down two ranks compared to last year in the Reporter’s Without Border’s (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2018. RSF is a global non-profit body that works on the freedom of the press.
India stood at 136 in a pool of 180 countries ranked by RSF in 2017, which was places lower than India’s rank in 2016. In 2018 rankings, India stands at 138, one place above Pakistan. Norway tops the chart, while North Korea has the worst press freedom in the world.
Describing the state of press freedom in the country, RSF stated, “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals”.
RSF mentions that government was using prosecutions to “gag journalists who are overly critical” of it, invoking, among other sections, sedition charges, which are punishable by a life-term in jail. Though it qualified, that “no journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship”.
What worsens the situation, as per RSF is that “coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult”. It added that foreign reporters are b”arred from the region and the Internet is often disconnected there”. Also, it stated that Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets “are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent”.
RSF also counts the total number of journalists killed in the world where it is “able to clearly establish that they were killed or imprisoned in connection with their journalistic work”. In 2018, RSF counted 13 journalists killed across the world for their work, of this three were in India. “At least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work” in India, RSF report stated”. It also mentioned “the newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh, who had been the target of a hate campaign on social networks”.
As per the Index’s definition, the quality of press freedom in the country is bad. Of the 180 countries ranked, 9 per cent had press freedom that could be qualified as good, 17 per cent were fairly good, in 35 per cent of the countries the situation was problematic, for 27 per cent of the countries including India the press freedom situation is bad and in 12 per cent of the nations, the pres freedom quality is very bad.
Regarding the global situation, RSF said in its report that the 2018 Index “reflects growing animosity towards journalists”. Hostility towards the media, it said is “openly encouraged by political leaders”, and the “efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism” poses a “threat to democracies”.
Hostility, it said is no longer limited to authoritarian regimes and the “climate of hatred is steadily more visible”. “More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion”. RSF said that, “the line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving”.
RSF released the latest rankings on Wednesday.