News Flash

India: A bad country for Journalists

TBL web desk

India however has not slipped further on the World Press Freedom Index 2021 published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), but it remains on the previous year’s spot which is 142 of 180. It also continues to be classified among the “bad” countries for journalism and is entitled as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists who try to do their jobs honestly.

The index was lately released on Tuesday and it ranks 180 countries. Norway topped the rank once again followed by Finland and Denmark. Eritrea is at the bottom of the ranking. China holds 177th rank which is just two ranks above the lowest ranks. North Korea is ranked at 179 and Turkmenistan is at 178. Nepal is at 106, Sri Lanka at 127, Myanmar at 140 (before the coup), Pakistan at 145, and Bangladesh is ranked at 152.

After 2016, India consistently slipped down from 133rd rank. The report stated that India shares the “bad” classification with Mexico, Russia, and Brazil.

The latest report has blamed BJP supporters to create an environment of intimidation for any critical journalist, who as per the report is labeled as “anti-state” or “anti-national”.

The report further mentioned that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “tightens his grip on media” with “four journalists killed in connection with their work in 2020, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly.”

The report further reads that the journalists “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” and ever since “the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party, pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line”.

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The report says, “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. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers are terrifying and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered.”

It is highlighted in the report of RSF that the “campaigns are particularly violent when the targets are women”. Additionally, the report reads that the criminal prosecutions are meanwhile “often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities” with sections for sedition also used.

Referring to the shutdown of media outlet ‘The Kashmir Times’ in the valley, the report reads, “In 2020, the government took advantage of the Coronavirus crisis to step up its control of news coverage by prosecuting journalists providing information at variance with the official position. 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 added, “While the pro-government media pump out a form of propaganda, journalists who dare to criticize the government are branded as “anti-state,” “anti-national” or even “pro-terrorist” by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

The report also stated that this “exposes” the critical journalists “to public condemnation in the form of extremely violent social media hate campaigns that include calls for them to be killed, especially if they are women”.

Additionally, “when out reporting in the field, they are physically attacked by BJP activists, often with the complicity of the police,” and “finally, they are also subjected to criminal prosecutions”.

Referring to the larger Asia-Pacific region, the report says, “instead of drafting new repressive laws to impose censorship, several of the region’s countries have contented themselves with strictly applying existing legislation that was already very draconian – laws on ‘sedition,’ ‘state secrets’ and ‘national security.”

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The report added that there is no “shortage of pretexts” to use these laws, and the “strategy for suppressing information is often two-fold”. Firstly, as per the report, “governments use innovative practices often derived from marketing to impose their own narrative within the mainstream media, whose publishers are from the same elite as the politicians” and, secondly, “politicians and activists wage a merciless war on several fronts against reporters and media outlets that don’t toe the official line”

India’s application of “these methods” has been called “particularly instructive” in the report.

The attack on freedom of expression on social media has also been highlighted in the report, particularly that in India the “arbitrary nature of Twitter’s algorithms also resulted in brutal censorship” bringing out that “after being bombarded with complaints generated by troll armies about The Kashmir Walla magazine, Twitter suddenly suspended its account without any possibility of appeal”.

The report further says that Asia Pacific’s “authoritarian regimes have used the covid-19 pandemic to perfect their methods of totalitarian control of information, while the ‘dictatorial democracies’ have used it as a pretext for imposing especially repressive legislation with provisions combining propaganda and suppression of dissent.”

“The behavior of the region’s few real democracies have meanwhile shown that journalistic freedom is the best antidote to disinformation”, the report added. However, it has not been classified which country falls under which categories.

The report states that the 2021 report “shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organization,” and, the “2021 Edelman Trust barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false”.

“Only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favorable environment for journalism”, the report noted.

The government of India has shown concern about the low rankings in such international indices, and the study of such reports has been started last year to year to understand how to improve it. In response to the last year’s report, Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Information and Broadcast tweeted on May 2, “Media in India enjoy absolute freedom. We will expose, sooner than later, those surveys that tend to portray a bad picture about ‘Freedom of Press’ in India.”

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