The index is published each year by 'Reporters Without Borders' and India stands 133 out of 180 countries

Press freedom worsening in India and PM Modi indifferent to threats says global report
news Media Friday, April 22, 2016 - 09:20

In what may be perceived as progress for press freedom in the country, India has been ranked 133 out of the 180 countries ranked in the Press Freedom Index 2016, three positions up from last year. The index is published each year by Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), a France-based, non-governmental watchdog, gauging media freedom across the world.

The report on the RSF website states a disturbing trend of “decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels”. Since 2015, the number of media freedom violations has gone up by 3.7%, while the decline from 2013 is 13.6 per cent.

Among India’s neighbours, Pakistan is ranked 147, Sri Lanka at 141, Bangladesh at 144 and China at 176. Meanwhile, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan fared better with rankings at 105, 94 and 120 respectively. The United States ranked at 44 and Russia at 148, with the former recovering five places from last year and the latter recovering four places.

While India may have gone up by three positions since 2015, the RSF report argues that not only is it difficult for journalists to report in areas deemed “sensitive” by the government, like Kashmir, but also that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists.” It adds that Modi plans to institute a journalism school run by former ministry propaganda officials to have a tighter a grip on the media.

In 2015, when India stood at 136, it was deemed one of the three most dangerous countries for journalists with the loss of nine journalists that year. In 2014 and 2013, India maintained its rank at 140 (in 2013, 179 countries were ranked. 180 countries were ranked 2014 onwards). The 2014 RSF report criticized India for “unprecedented violence” against journalists by both “state and non-state actors”. This was a fall from its 2012 standing at 131 where India was reported to be “partly free” due to growing instance of internet censorship.

It appears that India’s rank for allowing free press has improved since 2013 at least. However, any celebration may be misplaced as judgment based on rankings alone can be quite misleading, says the RSF.

“India's situation of press freedom has WORSENED over the last 2 years,” said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Asia-Pacific desk at RSF. Explaining further, he says that the overall poor performance of several countries might relatively mask the deterioration of India's own press freedom over the years. While it may appear that India has improved its rank, it could be merely because the other countries have worsened more. In the index, the rank of country is accompanied by its score. Higher the score, the worse climate it has for journalists.

In the 2016 index, the country with the best ranking, Finland, scores the lowest points at 8.59. India’s score for 2016 is 43.17.

“A real and worrying degradation is shown by the score of India - 43.17 in 2016 against 40.49 in 2015 (in the index, more is worse). And it was 40.34 in 2014, so already slightly worse in 2015 compared to 2014,” explains Ismail. “Violence against news providers is the main explanation of this degradation,” he said, adding to the worrisome picture.

With the RSF report mentioning the increasing number of attacks on journalists “by various religious groups that are quick to take offence” in the current regime, it places the utility of India’s improved ranking into serious question.


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