September 24, 2022

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

TOPIC : PRECIPITOUS FALL IN WORLDPRESS FREEDOM INDEX

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THE CONTEXT: According to the latest report released by the global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), India’s ranking in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index has fallen to 150 out of 180 countries. In last year’s report, India was ranked 142. The government has disagreed with the findings of the RSF that ranked India poorly. The government claimed that the report was based on small sample size and gave little or no importance to the “fundamentals of democracy”. This article explains in detail about the World Press Freedom Index and the reasons for the decline in India’s ranking in it.

WHAT IS THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX?

  • It has been published every year since 2002 by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders.
  • The ranking is based on a country’s performance in five broad categories: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety of journalists.
  • Based in Paris, RSF is an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and others.
  • The Index ranks countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. However, it is not an indicator of the quality of journalism.
  • Reporters Without Borders index only deals with press freedom and does not measure the quality of journalism in the countries it assesses, nor does it look at human rights violations in general.

Methodology: The score is calculated on the basis of two components:

  • A quantitative tally of abuses against journalists in connection with their work, and against media outlets.
  • A qualitative analysis of the situation in each country or territory based on the responses of press freedom specialists (including journalists, researchers, academics and human rights defenders) to an RSF questionnaire available in 23 languages.

Each country or territory’s score is evaluated using five contextual indicators that reflect the press freedom situation in all of its complexity: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety.

A subsidiary score ranging from 0 to 100 is calculated for each indicator. All of the subsidiary scores contribute equally to the global score. And within each indicator, all the questions and subquestions have equal weight.

FIVE BROAD CATEGORIES

POLITICAL CONTEXT

  • The degree of support and respect for media autonomy vis-à-vis political pressure from the state or from other political actors.
  • The level of acceptance of a variety of journalistic approaches satisfying professional standards, including politically aligned approaches and independent approaches.
  • The degree of support for the media in their role of holding politicians and government to account.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

  • The degree to which journalists and media are free to work without censorship or judicial sanctions.
  • The ability to access information without discrimination, and the ability to protect sources.
  • The presence or absence of impunity for those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.

ECONOMIC CONTEXT

  • Economic constraints linked to governmental policies (including the difficulty of creating a news media outlet, favouritism in the allocation of state subsidies.
  • Economic constraints linked to non-state actors (advertisers and commercial partners).
  • Economic constraints linked to media owners seeking to promote or defend their business interests.

SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT

  • Social constraints resulting from denigration and attacks on the press based on such issues as gender, class, ethnicity and religion.
  • Cultural constraints, including pressure on journalists to not question certain bastions of power or influence or not cover certain issues.

SAFETY

Ability to gather news without unnecessary risk of:

  • Bodily harm (including murder, violence, arrest, detention and abduction)
  • The psychological or emotional distress that could result from intimidation, coercion, harassment, surveillance, doxing (publication of personal information with malicious intent), degrading or hateful speech, smears and other threats targeting journalists.
  • Professional harm resulting from, for example, the loss of one’s job, the confiscation of professional equipment, or the ransacking of installations.

PERFORMANCE OF INDIA THROUGH GRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION

The chart shows India’s rankings across various categories in 2022. India ranked best in the legal framework category and worst in the safety of journalists category.

The chart shows India’s rank in the Press Freedom Index. While India has ranked consistently low over the past few years, its rank in 2022 plunged to the lowest the country has ever seen.

MAJOR FINDINGS OF THE REPORT

GLOBAL SCENARIO

  • According to the World Press Freedom Index:2022, Norway (1st) Denmark (2nd), Sweden (3rd) Estonia (4th), and Finland (5th) grabbed the top five positions.
  • North Korea, on the other hand, remained at the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ list of 180 countries and territories.
  • Russia was ranked 155th, down from 150th last year, while China advanced two places to 175th, according to Reporters Without Borders. China was ranked 177th in the world last year.

INDIA’S PERFORMANCE

  • India has fallen eight places from 142nd to 150th in 2022 among the 180 countries.
  • India’s position has been consistently falling in the index since 2016 when it was ranked 133.
  • The reasons behind the fall in the ranking are the increased “violence against journalists” and a “politically partisan media”.
  • The ranking categorized India as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries” for journalists, with an average of three or four journalists being assaulted in the course of their work each year.

INDIA’S NEIGHBOURS

  • China was ranked at 175th position.
  • The index placed Pakistan in 157th position, Sri Lanka in 146th, Bangladesh in 162nd and Myanmar in 176th position.
  • Nepal has climbed up by 30 points in the global ranking at 76th position.

REASONS FOR THE DECLINE IN INDIA’S RANKING

POLITICAL MOTIVATION

  • The report mentions that Indian authorities have targeted journalists and online critics in recent times driven by political motivation.
  • The report further highlighted that women journalists critical of the government face a growing backlash on social media, including rape and death threats.

WRONGFUL PROSECUTION

  • It also talked about journalists getting prosecuted under counterterrorism and sedition laws thereby cracking down on dissent.

THREATS AND VIOLENCE

  • According to the report, India is also one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media persons.
  • Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.
  • The report says authorities have arrested journalists on spurious terrorism and sedition charges, and have routinely targeted critics and independent news organizations, including raiding their workplaces.

FAULTS IN POLICY FRAMEWORK

  • Although the policy framework is protective in theory, it resorts to using defamation, sedition, contempt of court, and endangering national security against journalists critical of the government, branding them as “anti-national.”

KASHMIR ISSUE

  • The extended ban on the internet in Jammu and Kashmir, and allegedly arbitrary suspension of Twitter accounts of those speaking against the government, were given as evidence of the government tightening its grip on media.

CRITICISM OF THE INDEX

  • Multiple countries and commentators have raised concerns with both the WPFI criteria, and methodology and also about RSF’s perceived biases, lack of objectivity in ranking and lack of transparency. One of the primary concerns raised has been the opaqueness of the WPFI survey.
  • Question-wise or category-wise scores used in computing scores for the five parameters are not made public, nor is the list of respondents provided.
  • Similarly, credible sources are not available for quantitative data on abuse and violence against journalists, nor is any attempt made to clarify such data with Government or country-wise sources in any of the countries being ranked. When a limited sample of approximately 150 respondents and 18 NGOs are asked to analyse and respond to 83 questions for each country, the chances of biases and disconnect with the realities are high. Multiple countries and commentators have raised concerns with both the WPFI criteria and methodology and also about RSF’s perceived biases, lack of objectivity in ranking and lack of transparency.
  • The Press Council of India (PCI), which acts as a watchdog of the press, by the press and for the press had rejected India’s ranking in the 2018 WPFI, stating that there was a lack of clarity on the inputs for the rankings, which were based solely on the perception and not on statistical data.
  • Also when India’s rank is seen in the context of other countries, it may be noted that some of the most oppressive, authoritative regimes have found a place way ahead of India. RSF, this year, gained the audacity to put countries known for purging press freedom, killing journalists and reporters such as UAE, Hong Kong and Mexico way above India in its latest Press Freedom Index.

STATE OF PRESS FREEDOM IN INDIA

  • Freedom of the press in India is subject to certain restrictions, such as defamation law, a lack of protection for whistleblowers, barriers to information access and constraints caused by public and government hostility to journalists. The press, including print, television, radio, and internet are nominally amended to express their concerns under the selected provisions such as Article-19 (which became effective from 1950), though it states freedom of “occupation, trade or business” and “freedom of speech and expression” without naming “press” in clause “a” and “g”. The article allows a journalist or media industries to cover any story and bring it to the audiences without impacting the national security of the country.
  • To protect the intellectual, moral, and fundamental rights of the citizens, the government has taken several countermeasures to combat circulating fake news and restricting objectionable contents across the multiple platforms. The law of India prohibits spreading or publishing fake news through social or mass media, and could lead to imprisonment of a journalist or newspaper ban.
  • The country’s news outlets and their associated journalists were allegedly charged with sedition and criminal prosecution charges by the authorities.
  • The International Press Institute (IPI), an international organizations dedicated to the improvement of journalistic practices, claims that the government of India is responsible for restricting journalists covering COVID-19 pandemic-related reports in the country.
  • In 2021, seven journalists were imprisoned in India, the highest in the last 3 decades.Data show that journalists enjoy less freedom than citizens in the country.At least three journalists were killed in 2017 in connection with their jobs.
  • Reporters Without Borders stated Gauri Lankesh a proponent of secularism and a critic of right-wing forces was shot dead outside her house. A member of a Hindu nationalist group was arrested for killing Lankesh.
  •  A report stated that between 2014 and 2019, 40 journalists were killed and at least 198 severe attacks on journalists were reported, of which, 36 occurred in 2019 alone.
  • The media have consistently upheld the personality cult of the leaders since the country’s formation. It reported on the activities of the leader, regularly reporting on their political campaigns, frequently including “advertisements” to ruling parties through radio, television and Newspaper display ads.

THE WAY FORWARD:

TRANSPARENT AND UNBIASED INDEX

  • Concerns have been raised with both the WPFI criteria, methodology and also about RSF’s perceived biases, lack of objectivity in ranking and lack of transparency. One of the primary concerns raised has been the opaqueness of the WPFI survey. Thus RSF needs to resolve this issues and need to make the index more transparent and unbiased.

PROPER DEFINITION

  • RSF should update its definition of press and account in its ranking methodology for differences between print, electronic and TV journalists, and social media commentators.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

  • The Indian state should respect the right to freedom of expression and freedom of media (Article 19), which is the fourth pillar of democracy. However, Freedom of the press is also not absolute.

IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATIONS

  • Concerned authorities should conduct independent and impartial investigations into allegations of threats and attacks targeting journalists and critics.

INDEPENDENT REGULATORY BODIES

  • There is a need to establish independent press councils, media watch groups, ombudsmen, and other media self‐regulatory bodies autonomous from the government.

REGULATION FRAMEWORK

  • There are disastrous effects of misinformation chaos including globalised and unregulated online information spaces that encourage fake news and propaganda. The state should have a robust regulatory framework for the same.

PRESS AND DEMOCRACY

  • Freedom of the press is crucial to the functioning of a vibrant democracy hence the government should ensure its wellbeing

PROPER GUIDELINES

  • The government should lay guidelines for the frequent internet shutdowns and promote scientifically verifiable facts rather than misinformation on the digital platforms.

THE CONCLUSION: SDG Target 16.10 enjoins governments and all stakeholders to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. An objective measure of press freedom across countries and a well-coordinated multi-stakeholder approach towards establishing press freedoms are essential towards improving democratic outcomes like transparency, accountability, people’s participation etc. With these overarching goals in mind, Reporters Without Borders must use its unique position and expertise to evolve a globally acceptable definition of press freedom by engaging with all countries which it ranks and strive to remove inconsistencies and biases in its ranking methodology and provide clarity on its funding sources. Also with systemic censorship on the rise and journalists facing constant threats from the government as well as other political outfits, the future of independent journalism in India today is in the hands of those institutions that have been struggling to retain their independence and promote journalistic rights: most importantly the courts, but also editors and journalists’ associations and independent news media themselves.

VALUE ADDITION

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

  • The day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
  • The day also marks the 1991 Windhoek Declaration (adopted by UNESCO).
  • It aimed toward the ‘development of a free, independent and pluralistic press’.
  • The theme for 2022:Journalism under digital siege

FREEDOM OF PRESS IN INDIA

  • The Constitution, the supreme law of the land, guarantees freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, which deals with ‘Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
  • Freedom of the press is not expressly protected by the Indian legal system but it is impliedly protected under article 19(1) (a) of the constitution, which states – “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
  • In 1950, the Supreme Court in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras observed that freedom of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations.
  • However, Freedom of the press is also not absolute. It faces certain restrictions under Article 19(2), which are as follows-

Matters related to interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

QUESTION FOR MAINS EXAMINATION:

  1. Discuss the salient features of the World Press Freedom Index. How far do you agree with the view that the press freedom in India is on a continuous decline as reflected in the Index?
  2. India’s ranking is continuously declining in the world press freedom index. Analyse the reasons behind it and also suggest measures to ensure the freedom of the press in the country.
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