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How free is the press in India?

April 26, 2018 08:16 IST

The nation ranked 138 among 180 countries, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index report.

IMAGE: The annual report noted that that “journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals”. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

India slipped in the annual World Press Freedom Index for the second straight year, falling two places to rank 138th among 180 countries in the latest list released on Wednesday. The country was ranked 136th in 2015, gained three places to 133rd in 2016, and fell back to 136th last year.

In its 2018 report, media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières noted that “journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals”.

Speaking of India, the media watchdog further stated, “Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment. No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship.”


Norway once again topped the list, while North Korea found itself at the bottom. The United States fell two places to 45th, Pakistan was ranked 139th, Russia 148th, and China was at 176th.

The annual report, which started in 2002, said that reporters were the target of a growing wave of authoritarianism with leaders whipping up hostility against them.

The group accused the world’s three superpowers -- the US, China and Russia -- of leading the charge against press freedom, with Trump regularly launching personal attacks on reporters and Beijing exporting its “media control model” to strangle dissent elsewhere in Asia.

Rankings of press freedom

Rank Country
1 Norway
2 Sweden
3 Netherlands
4 Finland
5 Switzerland
6 Jamaica
7 Belgium
8 New Zealand
9 Denmark
10 Costa Rica
138 India
180 North Korea

RSF said that hostility towards the media is “no longer confined to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt”, but was poisoning the political atmosphere in some of the great democracies.

“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” the report said, picking out Trump, India’s Narendra Modi and Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte for particular criticism.

The US president had referred to reporters as “enemies of the people”, a term once used by Stalin, it said.

But not all the news was bad. Ecuador jumped 13 places after tensions eased between the government and privately-owned media, while Justin Trudeau’s Canada entered the European-dominated top 20.

Jamaica climbed to eighth overall, above Belgium and New Zealand, and Gambia jumped 21 places -- the biggest rise in Africa -- just ahead of Angola and Zimbabwe.