World Press Freedom Day: Is India a dangerous place for journalists?

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated his ‘unwavering support’ for the freedom of press and media on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, instituted by the United Nations (UN). He says that that freedom of the press is vital for a democracy.

“World Press Freedom Day is a day to reiterate our unwavering support towards a free & vibrant press, which is vital in a democracy,” PM Modi tweeted.

However, there have a number of incidents in which journalists were targeted. Recently, a 45-year-old freelance journalist, Aparna Kalra, was violently attacked during her evening walk in a park in Delhi. The brutal attack lead to serious head injuries. Kalra, who was bleeding profusely from the head, had to be hospitalized and had to undergo emergency surgery. Another senior journalist working with the Daily News & Analysis (DNA) newspaper was attacked in Navi Mumbai recently.

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Is journalism and freedom of the press under siege?

India fares poorly as far as safety of journalist and freedom of press are concerned. The international report paints a dismal picture: India ranks 136 on the World Press Freedom Index, three points lower than last year. The country has, in fact, gone down from the previous year’s 133rd position. The report blames the rise of Hindu nationalism, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for the lowering of the ranking.

“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media. Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals,” says the report.

The report is particularly critical of media curbs in restricted regions.

“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,” adds the report.

A cursory glance at the World Press Freedom Index

The report says that Norway is the most press tolerating country while North Korea has the dubious distinction of being the worst for journalists. The list contains 180 nations and ranks them according to the level of freedom available to journalists in that country.

The ranking is annually released by Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), an international non-profit and non-governmental organization which promotes and defends the freedom of the press. The organization, headquartered in in Paris, has consultant status at the United Nations (UN). The organization also publishes “Predators of Press Freedom,” a list of politicians, religious leaders, government officials, militias and criminal organizations, who openly target journalists.

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