India’s press freedom comes under sharp scrutiny


In collaboration with CobraPost

India fares abysmally low in freedom of press. A recent global study places democratic India at 133 out of 180 countries surveyed. India which boasts of a ‘vibrant media’ is just little ahead of its neighbours Pakistan (147), Bangladesh (144), Burma (143), Sri Lanka (141). India along with a few countries has been put under “Countries to Watch” as journalists here face growing threat by a right-wing government.

Press freedom in India has come under scrutiny 

The study critically observes: In India, journalists have faced a wave of threats and physical attacks in recent months, particularly from right-wing groups, adding to doubts about press freedom under the current Hindu nationalist government.

The annual ‘World Press Freedom Index 2016’ by ‘Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) and ‘Freedom House’ that seeks to take a 360 degree view of the press freedom situation across the globe finds that the media freedom has declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2005 with only 14 per cent of the world enjoying a free press.

The ‘freedom’ trends in the media sphere are disturbingly declining. “A climate of fear combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests” has been quite pervasive. Honest and watchdog media is facing global backlash, losing ground almost everywhere. “It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism,” says RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.

The report, being published since 2002, ranks 180 countries based on pluralism, media independence, legal protection, and journalist safety.


Only 14 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press.
Forty percent of the world’s population has a ‘Partly Free Press’.

46 percent live in ‘Not Free Media’ environments.

Steep declines in press freedom are due to heightened partisanship, and polarization, extralegal intimidation and physical violence against journalists.

Largest declines in press freedom took place in Bangladesh, Turkey, Burundi, France, Serbia, Yemen, Egypt, Macedonia, and Zimbabwe.

10 worst-rated places are Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Europe (with 19.8 points) still has the freest media, followed distantly by Africa (36.9), which for the first time overtook the Americas (37.1), a region where violence against journalists is on the rise. Asia (43.8) and Eastern Europe/Central Asia (48.4) follow, while North Africa/Middle East (50.8) is still the region where journalists are most subjected to constraints of every kind.

The countries that fell farthest include Poland (47th, down 29), where the ultra-conservative government seized control of the public media, and (much farther down) Tajikistan, which plunged 34 places to 150th as a result of the regime’s growing authoritarianism. The Sultanate of Brunei (155th, down 34) suffered a similar fall because gradual introduction of the Sharia and threats of blasphemy charges have fueled self-censorship. Burundi (156th, down 11) fell because of the violence against journalists resulting from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested re-election for a third term. The same “infernal trio” are in the last three positions: Turkmenistan (178th), North Korea (179th) and Eritrea (180th).

While making region-wise observations, the study finds that there are widespread examples of muzzling controversial speech by states and vigilantes in Asia. Making matters worse, the region’s governments tended to ban and prosecute discussion of issues rather than protecting those who dared to address them.

“In India, among other killings, one journalist was burned to death by police after he accused an Uttar Pradesh government minister of corruption. Separately, Indian officials banned a documentary film on the contentious problem of violence against women in the country, and temporarily suspended broadcasts of Al-Jazeera English because the station showed a map that did not match the government’s position on Kashmir.”

Extremists in Bangladesh murdered at least four bloggers and a publisher who had produced content that was critical of religious fundamentalism. Many other writers, after being threatened or injured in similar attacks, felt compelled to go silent, relocate, or flee the country. The authorities temporarily blocked social media on security grounds, allegedly forced the suspension of a popular political talk show, and threatened dozens of people with contempt of court charges for signing a letter in support of a British journalist who had been convicted on similar charges in late 2014. The government also reportedly pressured private companies to withdraw advertising from two critical newspapers; in early 2016 the papers’ editors faced multiple charges of sedition, defamation, and “hurting religious sentiment.”

In China, censorship of news and internet content related to the financial system and environmental pollution increased, said Jennifer Dunham of Freedom House. “Professional journalists from established news outlets—as well as Hong Kong–based booksellers—were detained, imprisoned, and forced to give televised confessions, representing a disturbing new pattern of repression.”

The Middle East and North Africa continued to be one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous regions for journalists, who in many places were trapped between rival factions, belligerents, radical groups and governments that behave in an extreme fashion and are often adept at their own terror strategies. Dunham added, “The forces against press freedom were strongest in the Middle East and Turkey, where governments and militant groups pressured journalists and media outlets to take sides, creating a ‘with us or against us’ climate and attacking those who refused to be cowed.”

But that surely did not deter journalists from performing extra-ordinary work. In fact, journalists and bloggers worldwide have shown resilience, often at great risk to their lives. “Examples include journalists with the Syrian media collective Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, who clandestinely document rights violations by the Islamic State (IS) militant group; investigative reporters in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia, who persist in the face of threats from organized crime; and reporters in China who disregard government directives and publicize politically sensitive information”, the report observes.

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