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India once again retains a low rank in World Press Freedom Index 2021

The annual World Press Freedom Index report was released by the French non-profit NGO ‘Reporters Without Borders’ yesterday. India was once again ranked at 142nd spot, just like last year, without making any improvement. The much-coveted reports on the freedom of the press throughout the world has ranked Norway at 1st position, while African country Eritrea ranks last on the list at the 180th position, this year.

What is ‘Reporters Without Borders’?

Founded in 1985, Reporters Without Borders is an international non-profit organization that is working as an advocacy group for press freedom and safeguarding the lives of journalists worldwide. It is headquartered in Paris and has a presence in five continents where it defends and fights for the rights of imprisoned and persecuted journalists and media personnel. The organization has a pattern of research-based observation of the state of media and press in countries throughout the world, and that is the reason why its annual reports are considered legitimate.

The organization has been a part of controversies in the past, which claims to be a neutral agency have come under fire. One such incident happened in 2003 when the organization’s consultant status with the United Nations was suspended for one year following its involvement in a protest that disrupted the inauguration of Libya as chair of the UN Human Rights Council.

RSF works closely with local press bodies and agencies and based on their inputs and its own thorough research, it comes out with various reports throughout the year, including the ranking of countries.

What does the ranking say about India and its neighbours?

There’s nothing good for India in the report, other than the fact that it ranks better than its “not so friendly” neighbours Pakistan (145th rank) and China (177th). In fact, if one ignores China and Pakistan for a moment, one would find that our other neighbouring countries including Nepal (106), Srilanka (127th) and Bhutan (65th) rank much better than us. Even a country like Myanmar, which is currently suffering a military coup and is much more unstable than any other nation in the subcontinent, ranks better than India in this year’s index at 140th position. 

India’s friendly nations like Japan, Israel, the US and Australia too, have ranked below 100. 

The report has also come out with a comment on the status of Press Freedom and Journalistic practices in India, and the reason why India ranks so low on its benchmark, published on RSF’s website, the report titled “Modi tightens his grip on the media” says –

 “With four journalists killed in connection with their work in 2020, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. They are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line. 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. The campaigns are particularly violent when the targets are women. 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. In 2020, the government 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 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.”

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