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India among 'most dangerous countries' for journalists

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks India 142 out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index

Cameramen shooting the group photo at Wikiconference India 2016 (Representative Image) (Harvinder Chandigarh)

India ranks 142 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom index, released Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog. In 2016, India was ranked 133.

Explaining its findings, the RSF report said that Indian journalists are exposed to all kinds of attack, from the police and political activists, to criminal groups or corrupt local officials. In 2020, four journalists were killed and scores harassed, detained and charged with "sedition" under section 124 (a) of Indian Penal Code.

The pressure on the Indian media had increased since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the RSF noted.

Also read: Prem Prakash, ANI and the perils of access journalism

"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 added.

The bleak state of affairs in India is in line with the trend across the globe. The RSF found several countries, especially in Asia, Middle East and Europe, using the pandemic as grounds to block journalists’ access to information, sources and reporting in the field.

The World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. The RSF ranks countries on basis of an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region.
The World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. The RSF ranks countries on basis of an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country and region. (rsf.org)

The Indian government, too, 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 RSF said.

"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," it said.

Norway topped the World Press Freedom list, followed by Finland and Denmark. Eritrea was at the bottom. Of the countries in India's neighbourhood, Nepal was ranked 106, Bhutan at 65, Sri Lanka at 127, Myanmar (before the coup) at 140, Bangladesh at 152 and Pakistan at 145.

Also read: Meet Kashmiri journalist Ahmer Khan, nominated for a CAA documentary

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