In the Press Freedom Index 2022 published by Reporters Without Border on Tuesday, India has been ranked 150 out of 180 countries, its lowest rank in the last 20 years. The media watchdog further noted that the press is “under threat” in India and called it “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.”
Slipping eight positions, India dropped from 142nd place in 2020 and 2021 to 150th this year.
Reporters Without Borders first published its Press Freedom Index 20 years ago, in 2002, at which time India secured the 80th rank. It later dropped to 128 in 2003 and then secured the 120th rank in 2004, both under the rule of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After this, India ranked 106 and 105 in 2005 and 2006, respectively, under the leadership of Congress’s Manmohan Singh. Following this, it kept fluctuating under Congress rule, from 105 to 131 till 2013.
However, under the Narendra Modi-led BJP reign since 2014, India has constantly been slipping. It secured the 136th position in 2017, 138th in 2018, 140th in 2019, 142nd in 2020 and 2021, and finally, down to 150th this year.
In February, when questioned about last year’s poor ranking in the index, the Government of India said that it does not agree with the ranking as the publisher is a foreign NGO. The union government further questioned the methodology used by the NGO for drawing its conclusions, citing “very low sample sizes, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, and lack of clear definition of press freedom.”
In this year’s report, the international media organisation noted that while India has more than 100,000 newspapers and 380 television news channels, “the abundance of media outlets conceals tendencies toward the concentration of ownership, with only a handful of sprawling media companies at the national level, including the Times Group, HT Media Ltd, The Hindu Group and Network18.”
The international media watchdog further mentioned that 13 journalists are currently imprisoned in the country, while one was killed in January 2022. It also pointed to the targeting of Muslim journalists such as Rana Ayyub, time and again, while covering rallies, the farmers’ protest, anti-CAA protests, and reporting on the failures of the Modi government, especially its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Indian law is protective in theory but charges of defamation, sedition, contempt of court and endangering national security are increasingly used against journalists critical of the government, who are branded as ‘anti-national’,” read the report.
The organisation also quoted groups such as the press council and editors’ guild as saying, “The authorities should conduct prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigations into allegations of threats and attacks targeting journalists and critics, including from government officials. Journalists should not have to risk their freedom and their lives to do their work.”