'Dangerous Country for Journalists', India's Press Freedom Rank is 142, IT Rules Make it Worse

Published by Reporters Without Borders, the index squarely blamed Prime Minister Modi and Hindutva activists for creating an environment of intimidation for journalists in India.

New Delhi: India has been listed under countries considered “bad” for journalism and is among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, which published its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, on Tuesday.

For the second successive year, India has ranked 142 among 180 countries on the Index.

Among India’s neighbours, Nepal is at 106, Sri Lanka at 127, and Myanmar, before the military coup, features at 140. However, Pakistan and Bangladesh secured 145 and 152 ranks on the index, respectively.

Yet again, Norway, followed by Finland and Denmark, have emerged at the top, securing the first three spots respectively. Eritrea in the horn of Africa is at the bottom, ranked 180. Other countries at the bottom are China (177), North Korea (179) and Turkmenistan (178).

Explaining the reasons for categorising India as “bad” for journalism and among dangerous countries for journalists, the report says Bharatiya Janata Party supporters and the Hindutva ideology have created an environment of intimidation for journalists who are critical of the government by labelling them as “anti-national” or “anti-state”. India shares the “bad” classification with Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

The report has also specifically called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a head of government who has tightened “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 observes.

In fact, the UNESCO ‘observatory of killed journalists‘ has it that six, not four, journalists have been killed in India in 2020.

On India’s draconian new Information Technology rules to regulate content on digital news media platforms, the RSF report says:

“Given that the index had been worked out before India came out with new rules to “regulate” online news platforms, along with other digital content providers, in February this year, the situation of press freedom in the country has further deteriorated. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 has been widely criticised, for posing an impediment to a thriving digital news media space.”

Also read: Official Panel Sees ‘Western Bias’ in India’s Low Press Freedom Rank But Wants Defamation Decriminalised

The report has minced no words in delineating how the BJP-led government under Modi is harmful for journalism. It says, 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”. It further adds that 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. 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,” says the report.

The report has also specifically touched upon how the Indian government in 2020 took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to muzzle press freedom. It has also noted that the situation in Kashmir as “still very worrying”, as journalists continued to be harassed by police and paramilitary forces, which it says are due to “utterly Orwellian content regulations”.

Also read: Attacked, Arrested, Left Without Recourse: How 2020 Was for India’s Journalists

“While the pro-government media pump out a form of propaganda, journalists who dare to criticise the government are branded as “anti-state,” “anti-national” or even “pro-terrorist” by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” says the report.

The report has also shed light on “extremely violent social media campaigns” organised by the BJP and Hindutva supporters that openly call for “public condemnation” of journalists who are critical of the government, and they even go to the extent of issuing death threats “especially if they are women”.

The report has highlighted the throttling of freedom of expression on social media, and specifically mentioned that in India the “arbitrary nature of Twitter’s algorithms also resulted in brutal censorship”. It has also highlighted that “[a]fter being bombarded with complaints generated by troll armies about The Kashmir Walla magazine, Twitter suddenly suspended its account without any possibility of appeal”.

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 organisation”. It has further noted that “only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism”.