India has sunk to the 150th rank in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index of 180 nations released by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, 3 May. The country had been placed at the 142nd rank last year.
"The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in 'the world's largest democracy,'" the international non-profit organisation states as the reason behind the decline in India's position.
"Originally a product of the anti-colonial movement, the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s, when Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media."Reporters Without Borders
"The prime example is undoubtedly the Reliance Industries group led by Mukesh Ambani, now a personal friend of Modi’s, who owns more than 70 media outlets that are followed by at least 800 million Indians. Very early on, Modi took a critical stance vis-à-vis journalists... Indian journalists who are too critical of the government are subjected to all-out harassment and attack campaigns by Modi devotees known as bhakts," the RSF report states.
'India One of World's Most Dangerous Countries for Media'
Reporters Without Borders notes in its 2022 report that an average of three to four journalists are 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 of corrupt local officials," it states.
"Journalists who try to cover anti-government strikes and protests are often arrested and sometimes detained arbitrarily. These repeated violations undermine media self-regulatory bodies, such as the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC)."
The RSF further posits that the Indian government, under the guise of combatting COVID-19, had waged a guerrilla war of lawsuits against media outlets whose coverage of the pandemic contradicted official statements.
On 'Godi Media' & Advertisements
Despite often huge stock market valuations, media outlets largely depend on advertising contracts with local and regional governments, notes the RSF World Press Freedom 2022 report.
"In the absence of an airtight border between business and editorial policy, media executives often see the latter as just a variable to be adjusted according to business needs. At the national level, the central government has seen that it can exploit this to impose its own narrative, and is now spending more than 130 billion rupees (5 billion euros) a year on ads in the print and online media alone."Reporters Without Borders
"Recent years have also seen the rise of 'Godi media' (a play on Modi's name and lapdogs) – media outlets such as Times Now and Republic TV that mix populism and pro-BJP propaganda," the report states.
As per the index, Norway is the most liberal country in terms of press freedom, while North Korea, which falls at the 180th position, is the most restrictive.