India falls further in press freedom rankings

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A graphical representation of the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Map: RSF

India, the world’s largest democracy, slipped two spots in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reflecting the growing challenges faced by journalists in the country.

According to the report, journalism in India faces a “deadly threat from Modi’s nationalism.” “Ever since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, Hindu fundamentalists have been referring to journalists in extremely violent terms,” it said.

“Physical violence against journalists” and the situation in Kashmir Valley – “a news black hole” – were the major reasons behind India’s low rank of 138. The report made a note of the gunning down of newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh and the murders of three journalists in connection with their work.

“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 prime minister’s troll army,” it noted.

The report referred to Modi as “a leader who asserts himself as a strongman, a leader whose authority does not tolerate being undermined by reporters or editorialists.”

This is the second consecutive year when India has fallen on the press freedom index, with a rank of 133 in 2016. 

Despite its criticism, the report noted that India’s “long tradition of vibrant media could nonetheless enable it to rise again in the index.”

India was a rank higher than Pakistan where “journalists are still threatened by both Islamic fundamentalists on the one hand and by the all-powerful intelligence services on the other.”

Afghanistan rose two places to 118 due to an improved legal environment for journalists, but the report acknowledged the threat of violence in the country where 18 journalists and media workers were killed in 2017. Sri Lanka also shot up by 10 spots to 131 for similar efforts to “to combat physical attacks against media personnel.”

The report also noted that “the Chinese model of state-controlled news and information” was being copied in several Asian countries including Vietnam and Cambodia. 

“The Chinese government is trying to establish a ‘new world media order’ under its influence, by exporting its oppressive methods, information censorship system and internet surveillance tools,” it said.

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