Press freedom – India’s rank improves but score falls

India is behind Pakistan and Sri Lanka, says RSF report

Press Freedom
According to RSF, the purpose of the World Press Freedom Index is to compare the level of freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories. The Index is based on a score ranging from 0 to 100, which is assigned to each country or territory, with 100 being the best possible score (the highest possible level of press freedom) and 0 the worst.

India ranked 159 in the World Press Freedom Index, an improvement from 161 in 2023 but its global score fell over the last year, from 36.62 to 31.28, according to the Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) report, which every year ranks the index of freedom enjoyed by journalists in 180 jurisdictions. The report was released on World Press Freedom Day, observed on 3 May.

India is behind Turkey, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which ranked at 158, 152, and 150, respectively. Norway and Denmark topped the RSF table while Eritrea and Syria at the bottom. The US ranked 55 with a score of 66.59. China was behind India with a rank of 172 and a score of 23.6.

In the political indicator, India ranked 159 with a score of 21.58. In the economic indicator, India’s rank was 157 with a 31.67 score. The other ranks are legislative indicator (143 – 40.87),  social indicator (156 – 33.33) and security indicator (162 – 28.97), which Indian Printer and Publisher has seen.

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, the report said. “Journalists who are critical of the government are routinely subjected to online harassment, intimidation, threats and physical attacks, as well as criminal prosecutions and arbitrary arrests. They can be victims of violence, from police officers and political activists, as well as criminal groups and corrupt local officials. Proponents of Hindutva, the ideology of the Hindu far right, call for popular revenge against critics branded as “traitors” and “anti-national”. Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns especially violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data is divulged. The situation is also remains 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,” the RSF said in its India chapter.

The report talks about the media bills, saying the Narendra Modi government has introduced several new laws that “will give the government extraordinary power to control the media, censor news and silence critics, including the 2023 Telecommunications Act, the 2023 draft Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, and the 2023 Digital Personal Data Protection Act.”

The Indian government has in the past dismissed international rankings of freedoms in India as misinformed and propaganda-driven.

India’s media has fallen into an “unofficial state of emergency” since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media, the report claimed. Reliance Industries group’s magnate Mukesh Ambani owns more than 70 media outlets that at least 800 million Indians follow, it said. “The NDTV channel’s acquisition at the end of 2022 by Gautam Adani, a tycoon who is also said to be close to Modi, signaled the end of pluralism in the mainstream media. Indian journalists who are very critical of the government are subjected to harassment campaigns by BJP-backed trolls,” the report said.

Describing the Indian media landscape, the report says it is abundant in this country of 1.4 billion inhabitants and 197 million homes with TV sets. “The country has nearly 900 privately owned TV channels, half of which are dedicated to news. Doordarshan, the public TV broadcaster, operates in 23 languages and reaches millions of viewers. Around 140,000 publications are published in more than 20 languages, including some 20,000 daily newspapers. Their combined circulation totals more than 390 million copies. However, online news, particularly on social media, is favored by a younger population and has overtaken print media as the main source of news. Radio news is still a state monopoly, with All India Radio (AIR) owned by the government.”

Anne Bocandé, RSF editorial director, says that as more than half the world’s population goes to the polls in 2024, RSF is warning of a worrying trend revealed by the 2024 World Press Freedom Index: a decline in the political indicator, one of five indicators detailed in the Index. “States and other political forces are playing a decreasing role in protecting press freedom. This disempowerment sometimes goes hand in hand with more hostile actions that undermine the role of journalists, or even instrumentalize the media through campaigns of harassment or disinformation. Journalism worthy of that name is, on the contrary.”

Yes, the elections context matters massively in India. I think this is one of the countries where there’s a perception of authorities participating in sort of mass disinformation and propaganda campaigns,” The Hindu quoted Rebecca Vincent, a director at RSF, as saying at a briefing organized by the Foreign Press Association in London, to launch the index release. Vincent said that among the countries going to the polls this year, the US was the most concerning in terms of press freedoms. 

According to RSF, the purpose of the World Press Freedom Index is to compare the level of freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories. The Index is based on a score ranging from 0 to 100, which is assigned to each country or territory, with 100 being the best possible score (the highest possible level of press freedom) and 0 the worst.

The RSF defines press freedom as the “ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”

On the basis of this definition, the press freedom questionnaire and map are broken down into five distinct categories or indicators (political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety).

In an earlier report on violence against journalists in India, the RSF had said at least 13 of the 28 journalists killed since 2014 were working on environmental-related subjects, mainly land seizures and illegal mining for industrial purposes. “It is alarming to see that half of the journalists murdered in the past 10 years were investigating environmental issues, often linked to the activity of criminal groups, mafias that maintain strong links with local authorities and enjoy almost total impunity for the crimes of violence they commit against journalists to protect their financial interests. This is appalling. Thorough and independent investigations should be carried out as a matter of urgency into the cases of murdered journalists and those who have been the victims of murder attempts. On the eve of crucial elections for the future of journalism in India, we call on candidates to undertake to end this unacceptable impunity and to prioritize the safety of all journalists,” said Célia Mercier, head of RSF’s South Asia desk.

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Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

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