'Dangerous Country for Journalists', India's Press Freedom Rank is 142, IT Rules Make it Worse

New Delhi: India has been listed under countries considered “bad” for journalism and is among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, which published its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, on Tuesday.

For the second successive year, India has ranked 142 among 180 countries on the Index.

Among India’s neighbours, Nepal is at 106, Sri Lanka at 127, and Myanmar, before the military coup, features at 140. However, Pakistan and Bangladesh secured 145 and 152 ranks on the index, respectively.

Yet again, Norway, followed by Finland and Denmark, have emerged at the top, securing the first three spots respectively. Eritrea in the horn of Africa is at the bottom, ranked 180. Other countries at the bottom are China (177), North Korea (179) and Turkmenistan (178).

Explaining the reasons for categorising India as “bad” for journalism and among dangerous countries for journalists, the report says Bharatiya Janata Party supporters and the Hindutva ideology have created an environment of intimidation for journalists who are critical of the government by labelling them as “anti-national” or “anti-state”. India shares the “bad” classification with Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

The report has also specifically called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a head of government who has tightened “his grip on media”. 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”, the report observes.

In fact, the UNESCO ‘observatory of killed journalists‘ has it that six, not four, journalists have been killed in India in 2020.

On India’s draconian new Information Technology rules to regulate content on digital news media platforms, the RSF report says:

“Given that the index had been worked out before India came out with new rules to “regulate” online news platforms, along with other digital content providers, in February this year, the situation of press freedom in the country has further deteriorated. The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 has been widely criticised, for posing an impediment to a thriving digital news media space.”

The report has minced no words in delineating how the BJP-led government under Modi is harmful for journalism. It says, journalists “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”. It further adds that 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”.