World Press Freedom: India’s rank slips from 150 to 161

Pakistan, Afghanistan fare better at 150 and 152 in RSF report

Press freedom
Photo: The climate reality project on Unsplash

India ranks 161 in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, slipping from its earlier position of 150 a year before, a latest report released by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says. Pakistan ranks 150, up from 157 in 2022, while Afghanistan is at 152, an improvement from 156 last year, the report seen by Indian Printer and Publisher says.

North Korea at 180 is at the bottom of the list, followed by China at 179 and Vietnam at 178. Norway, Ireland and Denmark occupy the top three positions in press freedom in the annual report released on World Press Freedom Day.

The Paris-headquartered RSF is an NGO, which claims to defend and promote media freedom. The objective of the World Press Freedom Index, which it releases every year, “is to compare the level of press freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories” in the previous calendar year.

In the political indicator, India ranks 169, 155 in the economic indicator, 144 in legislative, 143 in social, and 172 in the security indicator, the report says.

There was no immediate reaction from the Indian government but last year, Information and Broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur had told the Rajya Sabha that the government differed on the index. “The government does not subscribe to its views and country rankings and does not agree to the conclusions drawn by this organization for various reasons including very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, etc,” Newslaundry quoted him as saying.

The political indicator evaluates the degree of support and respect for media autonomy, vis-à-vis political pressure from the state or from other political actors. The economic indicator evaluates economic constraints linked to governmental policies, to non-state actors (advertisers and commercial partners) and to media owners. The legislative indicator evaluates the legislative and regulatory environment for journalists (including the level of censorship, the level of impunity for violence against journalists, and the ability to protect sources).

The sociocultural indicator evaluates social constraints based on such issues as gender, class, ethnicity and religion, and cultural barriers to questioning certain bastions of power or influence or covering certain issues, because it would run counter to the prevailing culture.

The security indicator evaluates the ability to identify, gather and disseminate news and information in accordance with journalistic methods and ethics, without unnecessary risk of bodily harm, psychological or emotional distress, or professional harm resulting from, for example, loss of one’s job, confiscation of professional equipment, or ransacking of media installations, the RSF says.

 “North Korea (180th), China (179th), Vietnam (178th), Myanmar (173rd) – Asia’s one-party regimes and dictatorships are the ones that constrict journalism the most, with leaders tightening their totalitarian stranglehold on the public discourse. Starting with Xi Jinping, who secured a historic third term as China’s leader, ensuring a concentration of power never seen since Mao Zedong, so as to pursue the crusade against journalism he launched ten years ago,” the report says.

Talking about India, the RSF says that the Indian media landscape is like India itself – huge and densely populated – and has more than 100,000 newspapers (including 36,000 weeklies) and 380 TV news channels. “But the abundance of media outlets conceals tendencies toward the concentration of ownership, with only a handful of sprawling media companies at the national level,” it says.

The report says, “With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media. Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Supporters of Hindutva wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking. Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns that are often even more violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data may be posted online as an additional incitement to violence. The situation is also still very worrisome in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.”

In a joint statement, The Indian Women’s Press Corps, the Press Club of India, and the Press Association expressed concern over the country’s dip in the index, news agency PTI said.

“The indices of press freedom have worsened in several countries, including India, according to the latest RSF report,” the joint statement said.

“For developing democracies in the Global South where deep pockets of inequities exist, the media’s role cannot be understated. Likewise, the constraints on press freedom due to hostile working conditions like contractorization have to also be challenged. Insecure working conditions can never contribute to a free press,” the statement said.

The RSF report comes in the backdrop of another report by Wan-Ifra’s World Press Trends Outlook, which says at least 66 journalists were killed in the year 2022, at least 40 of them for reasons directly linked to their work. Estimates suggest 363 are currently in jail (a 20% increase over 2021).

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