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Restrictions on media & internet in Kashmir has cost the country its press freedom ranking but score improves


Although no journalist was murdered in the country last year as opposed to six such murders in 2018, it would be wrong to say that press freedom has never been violated, says the recently released report by Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) -- a media watchdog organisation that works for freedom of expression and information.

The report says that India's performance in 2020 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) among 180 countries has been affected not only by curbs on media and internet (also fixed lines) in Kashmir but also by pressure on media to follow the Hindutva ideology and policies of the ruling nationalist government unquestionably. Journalists, especially women, often face online harassment on social networking websites for saying or writing something that annoy the supporters of the ruling nationalist government. In order to gag journalists who are critical of the authorities, Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code is often invoked (apart from criminal prosecutions), under which ‘sedition’ is punishable by life imprisonment.  

Journalists in the country often face police violence, covert attacks by political activists, and retaliations that are instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials, according to the recently released report by Paris-based RSF.   

As a result, the country’s WPFI ranking has fallen two places to 142nd position this year. Among 180 countries, India ranked 140th last year with a score of 45.67. In 2018, it attained 138th position with a score of 43.24 in terms of WPFI.

The South Asian countries, which have ranked better than India in terms of 2020 WPFI are Bhutan (67), Nepal (112), Sri Lanka (127) and Myanmar (139). The neighbouring countries, which fared worse than us on WPFI ranking this year, are Pakistan (145), Bangladesh (151) and China (177). Please consult table-1 for more details.

 
Table 1: World Press Freedom Index rankings & scores of various countries during 2017-2020

 

Source: Reporters without Borders - RSF,

https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2017 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2018 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019 ; and
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2020

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RSF's press freedom barometer has observed that three journalists were imprisoned in India in recent times -- Gautam Navlakha of Newsclick.in (on 14th April, 2020), Doddipalya Narasimha Murthy of Nyayapatha / Gauri Media Trust (on 25th October, 2019) and Aasif Sultan of Kashmir Narrator (on 24th August, 2018).

Has India’s press freedom index in 2020 really worsened?

India's WPFI scores were 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, 43.24 (rank 138) in 2018, 45.67 (rank 140) in 2019 and 45.33 (rank 142) in 2020. Please check chart-1.

 

Source: Reporters without Borders - RSF,

https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2013 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2014 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2015 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2016 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2017 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2018 ;
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019 ; and
https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2020

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The 2020 WPFI 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.

Since India's WPFI score in 2020 was lesser than that in 2019 (which is desirable) by -0.34 points, so it is obvious that the country has fared better recently. However, other countries have fared much better than India. As a result, our ranking (relative to other countries) has fallen by two places in 2020 WPFI vis-à-vis 2019 WPFI.

Since the colour category for India's map is 'red', it means press freedom here is in a 'difficult situation'.

It is worth noting that the WPFI for a country is compiled by combining the quantitative data on abuses and acts of 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. Please click here to know more about the methodology.


References

2020 World Press Freedom Index in India, Reporters Sans Frontières, https://rsf.org/en/india   

Violations of press freedom barometer, Reporters Sans Frontières, please click here to access

Online trolling takes its toll on the country's press freedom ranking, News alert by Inclusive Media for Change dated 27 April, 2018, please click here to access

India slips in press freedom rankings; Javadekar slams report, The Hindu, 3 May, 2020, please click here to access

 

Image Courtesy: 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Sans Frontières