RSF targets PM Narendra Modi for India’s lower press freedom ranking

India falls further to 138/180 in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, which alleges that hate speech targeting media is amplified on social media by troll armies in PM Modi’s “pay”

RSF targets PM Narendra Modi for India’s lower press freedom ranking
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NH Web Desk

India’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index has fallen two points to 138 from 136 last year, in a list with 180 countries. The 2018 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, points to the fact that hostility towards journalists has been increasing under the patronage of political leaders in an attempt to control the flow of news and this posed a threat to democracies.

The report alleges that in India, “hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay”. In India, at least three journalists were “gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year”. The report showcases the growing influence of “strongmen” and an eagerness to follow China’s methods of silencing criticism.

India is coloured red on the World Press Freedom Index map 2018, indicating a severe threat to independent journalism. The report states that “Hindu nationalists would like to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate”. What is worse, according to the report, is that self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and “journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals”.

India is coloured red on the World Press Freedom Index map 2018, indicating a severe threat to independent journalism

Evoking memories of the murder of Kannada newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh, the report said at least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 including Lankesh were targeted in connection with their work. Lankesh had been the target of a hate campaign on social networks. Three other journalists were killed for their professional activity in March 2018.

According to the report, the government uses law to persecute and target journalists who are critical of the establishment. “Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124A of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment. No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition, but the threat encourages self-censorship”.

Coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult. Foreign reporters are barred from the region and the Internet is often disconnected there. “When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent,” states the report.

Evoking memories of the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, the report said at least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work

India, ranked at 138, is behind several Asian and African countries, including Nepal (106), Afghanistan (118), Kuwait (105), UAE (128), Myanmar (137), Uganda (117), Nigeria (119) and Lebanon (100). Journalists in India are only marginally better than those in Pakistan (139). China is at 176.

The report states that the climate of hatred is more visible around the world than ever before and hostility towards the media is not just limited to authoritarian regimes such as Turkey (157) and Egypt (161). Increasingly, the report states, democratically-elected leaders do not see the media as part of “democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion”. And the line separating verbal violence from physical violence is disappearing.

The model of “relentless suppression of criticism and dissent” followed by Vladmir Putin’s Russia (148) and Xi Jinping’s China provides support to countries such as Vietnam (175), Turkmenistan (178) and Azerbaijan (163), which are at the bottom of the list.

Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most. Even in Norway, which is the first country on the list for the second year in running, and Sweden (2), where the press has been traditionally respected, there has been a decline in freedom. And North Korea (180th) is still the last on the index.

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