The World Press Freedom Index, published by the international profit organisation Reports Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday, 20 April, released its rankings. Like last year, India was ranked 142 in the list of 180 countries.
Seeing a steady decline in its press freedom ranking since 2016, India continues to be counted among the countries classified “bad” for journalism and is termed as "one of the most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their jobs properly", the report said.
The list is topped by Norway, and is followed by Finland and Denmark. Eritrea stands at 180, standing below North Korea and Turkmenistan. China is ranked 177 in the index.
In the South Asian neighbourhood, Nepal is at 106, Sri Lanka at 127, Myanmar (before the coup) at 140, Pakistan at 145 and Bangladesh at 152.
Reporters Without Borders notes that an environment of intimidation created by supporters of the ruling BJP marks any journalist critical of the state as “anti-state” or “anti-national”.
Titled “Modi tightens his grip on media”, the report added that journalists in India “are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials”.
Purging of All 'Anti-National' Thought
Tracing the decline in press freedom, the report says ever since “the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line”.
“Indians who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to radical right-wing Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the public debate," it adds.
Speaking on the role of social media, and the 'terrifying' intimidation of journalists online, the report notes that journalists that 'annoy' Hindutva followers are also met with threats of murder.
RSF highlights that these reprisals are more severe when a woman journalist is concerned.
Further, the report comments, “Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which ‘sedition’ is punishable by life imprisonment.”
Kashmir also finds a mention in the report, as it evidences the harsh curbs on press freedom with the shutting down of Kashmir Daily.
"The situation is still very worrying in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries and must cope with utterly Orwellian content regulations, and where media outlets are liable to be closed, as was the case with the valley’s leading daily, the Kashmir Times," the report notes.