The Government of India said on Tuesday that it does not agree with the country’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. India ranked 142nd out of 180 in the index in both 2020 and 2021, down from the 140th place in 2019.
GOI pointed out that the publisher of the rankings is a foreign non-government organisation and said it therefore does not subscribe to its views. The union government further questioned the methodology used by the NGO for drawing its conclusions, citing reasons such as “a very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, lack of clear definition of press freedom, etc.”
This came as a response from the Ministry of Home Affairs to the questions raised by MP Manish Tiwari in Parliament.
The two questions Tiwari raised were whether the journalists in Kashmir and the whole of India are frequently penalised by State agencies under the Indian Penal Code, UAPA and other penal laws; and whether it is due to such abhorrent coercion that India holds a poor 142nd position in the World Press Freedom Index.
“The government is committed to ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under the Article 19 of the Constitution of India,” replied Minister of State Nityanand Rai, who also noted that GOI does not subscribe to the views and country rankings of Reporters Without Borders.
He further mentioned that a statutory autonomous body, Press Council of India (PCI), has been set up under the Press Council Act, 1978 “mainly to preserve the freedom of the Press and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country.”
“PCI considers complaints filed by the Press concerning curtailment of press freedom, physical assault/attack on journalists etc. PCI is also empowered to take suo-motu cognizance in matters on the pressing issues concerning freedom of press and safeguarding of its high standards. Such complaints are processed under Section 13 of the Press Council Act, 1978 and provisions of the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations, 1979,” Rai added.
It is notable that recently, in November 2021, the Press Club of India expressed disappointment over the media not being allowed to enter the Parliament to cover the Winter Session 2021 and termed it “blatant censorship.”
Earlier, in October 2021, several journalists were booked and detained under the stringent UAPA for reporting on the communal violence in Tripura. Following this, the Editors Guild of India sent a three-member fact finding team to Agartala noting that it was “concerned by the reports of draconian criminal laws being used to prevent media from reporting on acts of violence in the state of Tripura.”
Before that, in March, the Editors Guild had expressed concern over freedom of press in the country, following the issue of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.
Tiwari also brought up the issue of the recent hostile takeover of the Kashmir Press Club. The KPC was shut down days after this incident.
Rai said, “Presently, there is no registered body by the name of ‘Kashmir Press Club’ or its elected managing body since Kashmir Press Club, as a registered body, has ceased to exist and has failed to register itself under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. The Estates Department has taken over the government building on January 17 in the presence of Executive Magistrate, Srinagar. The government building has deployment of static guard for its protection.”
Several press organisations, however, have condemned this move and urged the restoration of the KPC’s registration. “With the shutting down of the club and government reverting the land back to the Estates Department, an important journalistic institution in a region that has seen the worst kind of state heavy handedness against any independent media, has been effectively dismantled,” said the Editors Guild.