Reporters Without Borders

OPINION | Freedom of Press-India slips at 140; Is fourth pillar of democracy getting weak?

Press/Media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy in not only India but worldwide. The other three being Judiciary, Executive and Legislature. It ensures transparency in the working of all the above three systems. The statement itself shows the amount of importance it has in running and shaping the largest democracy of the world–India.

However, according to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), out of 180 countries, India is at 140 position, when it comes to freedom of the press. Our neighbour, Pakistan is at 142.

In 2018, India was at the 138th position from 136th in 2017, two points below the previous year.

Norway, Finland and Sweden are at the first, second and third spot respectively.

RSF shows how hatred against journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.

Published annually by Reporters Without Borders since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries.

Reasons cited by RSF for decline in the freedom of the press

Freedom of press in India
Screen grab (rsf.org)

Violence against journalists – including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters, and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians – is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India.

At least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018. These murders highlighted the many dangers Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural areas.

According to the Reporters Without Borders, attacks against journalists by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased in the run-up to general elections in the spring of 2019. 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 aggravate Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women, reported RSF.

However, many may find these reasons as subjective.

What freedom of the press exactly means?

Freedom of the press means that communication and expression through various media (including printed and electronic media) should be considered a right to be exercised freely. Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state.
With respect to governmental information, any government may distinguish which materials are public or protected from disclosure to the public.

State materials are protected due to either of two reasons: The classification of information as sensitive, classified or secret, or the relevance of the information to protecting the national interest.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

What former PM Jawaharlal Nehru said about the freedom of the press

Jawaharlal Nehru, Anurag Sason
Jawaharlal Nehru (File image)/Anurag Sason

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India admired the freedom of the press.

The press is one of the vital organs of modern life, especially in a democracy. The Press has tremendous powers and responsibilities. The Press must be respected and it must also have co-operation. (Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech in Parliament on 16/5/1951)

To my mind, the freedom of the Press is not just a slogan from the larger point of view but it is an essential attribute of the democratic process. I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the Press. By imposing restrictions you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press. (Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at the Newspaper Editor’s Conference on 3/12/1950)

At some occasions, our present Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has also thanked the press for its role.

But what concerns me is that Mr. Modi is ruling the country since 2014 and despite his love and appreciation for media, India is slipping downwards year after year when it comes to freedom of the press!

There may be some microscopic instances when a few journalists or media organisations have misused their powers but that is too rare.

I still remember that in February 2017 when I took an interview of veteran Congress leader Dr. Shashi Tharoor, he also stressed that freedom of the press is essential. However, he added that the power must be used keeping in mind the responsibilities that accompany it.

[Link of the complete interview] EXCLUSIVE: Freedom of the press is vital, but must be used responsibly, says Shashi Tharoor

Problem with media in India?

In India, the problem with media is tremendous. The country doesn’t have a model for a democratic press.

The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has published a report on India stating that Indian journalists are forced (or feel compelled for the sake of job security) to report in ways that reflect the political opinions and corporate interests of shareholders.

A journalist keeps his life at risk in order to bring out the truth for the greater good.  Freedom of the press (in other words freedom of information) is the foundation of any democracy. Yet, nearly half of the world’s population is still denied it!

About the author: Author is Deputy Editor in India TV and tweets at @AnuragSason

Capture

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of India TV.

Click here to watch variety of videos (ranging from political interviews to video travelogues) on Anurag K Sason’s You Tube channel (Anurag Sason) which has more than 2.9 million views.

Feature image courtesy: Screen grab/rsf.org

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