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India slips on freedom index

India has slipped three notches in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, a report released today by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders that has cited the "threat from Modi's nationalism".

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 27.04.17
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New Delhi, April 26: India has slipped three notches in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, a report released today by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders that has cited the "threat from Modi's nationalism".

The findings come at a time leading democracies are at a "tipping point" on media freedom with the advent of strongmen through the ballot box, bringing in their wake "post-truth and propaganda."

In the list of 180 countries mapped by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), India stands at 136, down from last year's 133, colour-coded again in red to show the situation as "difficult".

While the report marks the sub-continent all red, except Nepal that is a shade better with a "noticeable problem", China is all black to denote countries at the bottom of the heap where the media are in a "very serious situation''.

While India does not find mention in the chapter dedicated to the overall analysis of the rankings, the country chapter is titled "Threat from Modi's nationalism". "With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of 'anti-national' thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media," the report says.

Journalists are increasingly targets of online smear campaigns by most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals, the report notes. "Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124A of the (Indian) 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."

The report also takes note of the use of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to limit international influence. "Coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult, and there are no protective mechanisms. On the first day of a wave of protests in Kashmir in July 2016, the Internet was cut by the military and was often interrupted thereafter to prevent communication between protesters and prevent coverage by the media and citizen journalists. Journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government's tacit consent."

The global lookout is also bleak, the report says. In fact, "media freedom has never been so threatened" as overall levels constraints and violations worldwide have risen 14 per cent in a span of five years. "In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2 per cent)of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was 'good' or 'fairly good' fell by 2.3 per cent."