Online trolling takes its toll on the country's press freedom ranking

Online trolling takes its toll on the country's press freedom ranking

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published Published on Apr 27, 2018   modified Modified on May 5, 2020


There is some bad news for the world’s largest democracy. Thanks to the vitiated atmosphere induced by troll attacks on scribes on the social media, among other things, the country's World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) ranking has fallen two places to 138th position.  

Among 180 countries, India ranked 136th last year with a score of 42.94. However, in 2018 it attained 138th position with a score of 43.24 according to the WPFI, which has been developed by the international media organisation Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF).

The South Asian countries, which have ranked better than India in 2018 on WPFI are Bhutan (94), Nepal (106), Sri Lanka (131) and Myanmar (137). The neighbouring countries, which fared worse than us on WPFI ranking this year are Pakistan (139), Bangladesh (146) and China (176). Please check table-1 for further details.

Table 1: World Press Freedom Index rankings & scores of various countries in 2017 & 2018


Table 1
Source: Reporters without Borders: 2018 World Press Freedom Index,
Issues related to worsening press freedom index

The RSF, which has been publishing the WPFI since 2002, was able to clearly establish that during 2018 (till the time of its publication) three Indian scribes were killed in connection with their journalistic work. In contrast, the number of journalists killed in Pakistan was just one. However, neither any citizen journalist nor any media assistant was found killed in India by RSF in 2018. Similarly, no Indian scribe, citizen journalist or media assistant was found imprisoned in the present year.   

The RSF report has observed that 15 journalists in China, 8 in Bangladesh, 5 in Myanmar and 2 in Pakistan were imprisoned in connection with their journalistic work in 2018. Altogether 2 citizen journalists in Bangladesh and 39 in China were imprisoned in the current year. Apart from that, in Myanmar two media assistants were imprisoned in 2018.    

The names of the three Indian journalists who were found killed in 2018 in connection with their journalistic work by RSF are Vijay Singh (Dainik Bhaskar), Navin Nischal (Dainik Bhaskar) and Sandeep Sharma (News World). In 2017 too, three scribes were murdered in connection to their work. One of the murdered newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh had faced hate campaign on social networks, says the recent report on press freedom.

The 2018 WPFI report by RSF mentions that hate speech targeting Indian journalists is clearly evident on social networks, mostly by troll armies who support Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Apart from online smear campaigns by radical Hindu nationalists, prosecutions like invoking Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment) is often used to gag the mainstream media and journalists, says the report. Free and fair media coverage of sensitive areas like Kashmir is often restricted by the authorities.

It is worth noting that the WPFI for a country is compiled by combining the quantitative data on abuses and violence against journalists during the period under evaluation with the qualitative analysis based on responses of the experts (such as media professionals, lawyers and sociologists) to an online questionnaire (having 87 questions, translated into 20 languages), which has been devised by RSF.

The questionnaire by RSF focuses on such criteria categories that assesses a country’s performance with respect to pluralism, media independence and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists. Each question in the online questionnaire for experts is linked to one of the six following indicators (excluding the 7th one): 1. Pluralism; 2. Media independence; 3. Environment and self-censorship; 4. Legislative framework; 5. Transparency; 6. Infrastructure; and 7. Abuses.
Chart 1
India's World Press Freedom Index score (as per RSF) was 41.22 (rank 140) in 2013, 40.34 (rank 140) in 2014, 40.49 (rank 136) in 2015, 43.17 (rank 133) in 2016, 42.94 (rank 136) in 2017 and 43.24 (rank 138) in 2018. Please check the chart above.

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index report by RSF says that ever since the 2013 WPFI, countries have been given scores ranging from 0 to 100, with '0' being the best possible score and '100' the worst. The WPFI score for a particular country in a year can be compared with that of previous years.

Hate speeches by political leaders

A report prepared by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) on "hate speech" corroborates the findings of the 2018 WPFI report by RSF. The report by ADR and NEW (published on 25th April, 2018) points out that most Members of Parliament (MPs)/ Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) with declared cases related to "hate speech" belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party-BJP (27), followed by All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen-AIMIM (6), Telangana Rashtra Samithi-TRS (6), Telugu Desam Party-TDP (3) and Shiv Sena-SHS (3).  

The recent ADR-NEW report finds that most number of MPs/ MLAs with declared cases related to "hate speech" are from Uttar Pradesh (15), followed by Telangana (13), Karnataka (5), Maharashtra (5) and Bihar (4).

The ADR-NEW report states that although "hate speech" has not been defined in any law in the country, there are various sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA) that deal with them as per the Law Commission Report no. 267 of March 2017.

The following IPC and RPA sections deal with "hate speech" as per the Law Commission Report no. 267:  

Provisions under the IPC

* Section 153A IPC penalises 'promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony'.  

* Section 153B IPC penalises 'imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration'.
* Section 295A IPC penalises 'deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs'.  

* Section 298 IPC penalises 'uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person'.

* Section 505(1) and (2) IPC penalises publication or circulation of any statement, rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity, hatred or illwill between classes.

Provisions under the Representation of the People Act (1951)

* Section 8 disqualifies a person from contesting election if s/he is convicted for indulging in acts amounting to illegitimate use of freedom of speech and expression.  

* Section 123(3A) and section 125 prohibits promotion of enmity on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language in connection with election as a corrupt electoral practice and prohibits it.
Please click here to access the key findings of the ADR-NEW report on "hate speech".  


Reporters without Borders: 2018 World Press Freedom Index,

Methodology of 2018 World Press Freedom Index,

Violations of press freedom barometer,

RSF Index 2018: Hatred of journalism threatens democracies,

India Chapter: 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders,

Analysis of MPs/ MLAs with Declared Cases Related to Hate Speech, Association for Democratic Reforms, 25 April, 2018, please click here to access 

World Press Freedom Index: India down two ranks to 138, one place above Pakistan, The Indian Express, 27 April, 2018 please click here to access

India's ranking in press freedom falls two places to 138: Watchdog, Hindustan Times, 25 April, 2018, please click here to read more  
Image Courtesy: 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Sans Frontières

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