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Freedom of Press Index 2019

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    24th Apr, 2019

India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked140th out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders .

The World Press Freedom Index 2019', topped by Norway, finds an increased sense of hostility towards journalists across the world.

Issue

India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked140th out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders .

The World Press Freedom Index 2019', topped by Norway, finds an increased sense of hostility towards journalists across the world.

About:

Violence against journalists including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India.

At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018.

These murders highlighted the many dangers that Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural areas.

Background:

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), or Reporters Without Borders, is a non-profit organization that works to document and combat attacks on journalists around the world.

In its 2019 index, RSF finds that hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear around the world.

How is the Index compiled?

The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF.

This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

To compile the Index, RSF has developed an online questionnaire with 87 questions focused on these criteria.

Scores are calculated on the basis of the responses of the experts selected by RSF combined with the data on abuses and violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

Ever since the 2013 index, countries have been given scores ranging from 0 to 100, with 0 being the best possible score and 100 the worst.

This makes the Index more informative and makes it easier to compare one year with another.

The press freedom map offers a visual overview of the scores of all the countries in the index:

  • From 0 to 15 points: Good situation (white)
  • From 15.01 to 25 points: Satisfactory situation (yellow)
  • From 25.01 to 35 points: Problematic situation (orange)
  • From 35.01 to 55 points: Difficult situation (red)
  • From 55.01 to 100 points: Very serious situation (black)

With a score of 45.67, India is in RED zone.

World Press Freedom Index 2019: Key Pointers

  • The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that aggravate Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered.
  • The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women.
  • The emergence of a #MeToo movement in the media in 2018 has lifted the veil on many cases of harassment and sexual assault to which women reporters have been subjected.
  • Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.
  • The mere threat of such a prosecution encourages self-censorship.
  • When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by paramilitaries acting with the central government’s tacit consent.

Analysis

    World Press Freedom Index and India: Underlying reasons and Corrective measures

    For a country that prides itself on the strength of its democracy, India’s record in upholding the freedom of press has been consistently poor.

    • The physical violence against journalists is largely responsible for India’s low ranking.
    • Any investigative reporting that annoys the ruling party or any criticism of Hindutva, elicits a torrent of online insults and calls for the death of the reporter or writer responsible, most of it coming from the troll army.

    There are institutional shackles which constrain a reporter’s right to free speech, and consequently, prevent important stories from being published.

    • Censorship Begins From Within: Most journalists including editors are employed on contracts of three years or less, with an exit clause that permits them to leave or be fired on a notice of between one and three months. As a result, journalists have lost the courage to speak up or write about any issue that owners and managements do not want them to, including the issue of their own unstable working conditions.
    • Balancing Freedom of Trade and Freedom of Speech: The concentration of ownership of media implies that the influence and power which result in distribution of news and culture among other forms of expression and opinion-building in the country is now vested in only a handful of people.
    • The space for providing factual information as well as expressing views that are not in favor of (or even against the interests of) India’s biggest corporate conglomerates has shrunk.

    The free press is expected to uphold society’s civil and political freedom; however, the distribution of information in India is neither free nor fair.

    Industrial houses have been investing in media companies and indirectly gaining control over them.

    This reinforces the view that investors are investing in the media for their access and proximity to power and authority, and thereby also indulging in lobbying, rent-seeking behavior.

    Legal Safeguards to Protect a Whistleblower is in shambles: A journalist is only as good as their source. Thus, maintaining their anonymity must be paramount. India, however, has a patchy record when it comes to protecting whistleblowers.

    The stunted development of source protection privilege law in India has meant that news gatherers’ interactions with confidential sources are colored by ambiguity.

    Despite two sets of recommendations by the Law Commission of India, neither the government nor the judiciary has displayed an inclination to directly address the issue. Courts have adopted an impressionistic and ad hoc approach in deciding cases bearing upon source protection.

    The casualties of the quagmire are news gatherers, sources, the public, and the spirit of a democratic nation.

    The phenomenon of "paid news" wherein newspapers, magazines and TV channels are paid for eulogies of particular candidates and political parties, which then masquerade as independent news has eroded credibility of the media.

    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.

    How to move up the ladder?

    • Pluralism: Create a plural and vibrant society free from fear and abuse.
    • Media independence: Increase the degree to which the media is able to function independently of sources of political, governmental, business and religious power and influence.
    • Environment and self-censorship: Improve the environment in which news and information providers operate.
    • Legislative framework: Liberalize the impact of the legislative framework governing news and information activities.
    • Transparency: Make the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information open and transparent.
    • Infrastructure: Scrutinize and improve the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
    • Abuses: Increase data protection and make rule of law highly effective.

    Learning Aid

    Practice Question:

    India has been slipping world press freedom index year on year. It slipped 4 points - from 136 in 2017 to current position of 140 in 2019. Discuss reasons for this low performance and suggest ways to improve the same.

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