India has slipped two more places, from 140 to 142, on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reports without Borders).
Which means, the freedom of journalists in India to do their job has shrunk every year since 2015, the year after Narendra Modi came to power.
India’s 2020 ranking has gone down further thanks to the crippling attack on media freedom in Kashmir in 2019. (As if to leave no one in doubt, Kashmiri photographer Masrat Zahra and reporter Peerzada Ashiq were charged on the day the WPF index was published.)
Which also means there are only 38 countries in the world with even less freedom for media than India.
To the Modi government’s relief, Pakistan is at 145 and Bangladesh is at 151, but Sri Lanka is 127 and Myanmar 139.
This is the RSF text that accompanies India.
Modi tightens his grip on the media
With no murders of journalists in India in 2019, as against six in 2018, the security situation for the country’s media might seem, on the face of it, to have improved. However, there have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased.
Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.
India’s score in this year’s World Press Freedom Index is heavily affected by the situation in Kashmir where, after rescinding the state’s autonomy, the federal government shut down fixed line and mobile Internet connections completely for several months, making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover what was happening in what has become a vast open prison.