The story so far: India’s ranking in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index has fallen to 150 out of 180 countries, according to the latest report released by the global media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In last year’s report, India was ranked 142. The top three positions for countries with the highest press freedom were taken by the Nordic trio of Norway (a score of 92.65), Denmark (90.27) and Sweden (88.84).
What is RSF and what’s the objective of this Index?
RSF is an international NGO whose self-proclaimed aim is to defend and promote media freedom. Headquartered in Paris, it has consultative status with the United Nations. The objective of the World Press Freedom Index, which it releases every year, “is to compare the level of press freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories” in the previous calendar year. The RSF defines press freedom as “the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”
What is the methodology used by RSF to assess and rank countries?
Countries are ranked after being assigned a score ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 representing the highest possible level of press freedom and 0 the worst. The scoring has two components: a quantitative one, that tallies abuses against journalists and media outlets, and a qualitative analysis based on the responses of press freedom specialists (journalists, researchers, human rights defenders) to an RSF questionnaire.
Countries are evaluated on five contextual indicators: political context, legal framework, economic context, socio-cultural context, and safety. For instance, the political context indicator considers, among other things, “the degree of support for the media in their role of holding politicians and government to account in the public interest”. A ‘subsidiary score’ ranging from 0 to 100 is calculated for each indicator, and all the subsidiary scores together contribute to the ‘global score’. India, which had a global score of 53.44 in the 2021 Index, could muster only 41 this time.
What are the findings with regard to world press freedom?
In terms of global trends, the report flags a “two-fold increase in polarisation amplified by information chaos — that is, media polarisation fuelling divisions within countries, as well as polarisation between countries at the international level.” It notes that “within democratic societies, divisions are growing” due to the spread of “opinion media” modelled on Fox News, and the rise of “disinformation circuits” amplified by how social media functions.
While singling out Moldova (40th) and Bulgaria (91st) for drastic improvements in press freedom “thanks to a government change”, it has classified the situation in 28 countries including Russia (155) and Belarus (153), as “very bad”. The world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom include Myanmar (176th), China (175), Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (179th) and North Korea (180th).
What does the Index say about India?
The report states that in India, “the violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis”. Describing India as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media”, the report notes that “journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.” It highlights that “supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu far-right, wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking.”
What are the report’s observations on India under various indicators?
Under ‘political context’, it states: “Originally a product of the anti-colonial movement, the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s, when Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media.” It highlights that “very early on, Modi took a critical stance vis-à-vis journalists, seeing them as 'intermediaries' polluting the direct relationship between himself and his supporters.”
With regard to ‘legal framework’, the report notes that “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”. Under ‘economic context’, the report, describing Indian media as a “colossus with a feet of clay”, points out that “media outlets largely depend on advertising contracts with local and regional governments” and “at the national level, the central government has seen that it can exploit this to impose its own narrative, and is now spending more than ₹130 billion (5 billion euros) a year on ads in the print and online media alone. “Finally, on the socio-cultural indicators of press freedom, the report, noting that “the enormous diversity of Indian society is barely reflected in the mainstream media,” states that “for the most part, only Hindu men from upper castes hold senior positions in journalism or are media executives — a bias that is reflected in media content.”
- India’s ranking in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index has fallen to 150 out of 180 countries, according to the latest report released by Reporters Without Borders.
- Countries are evaluated on five contextual indicators: political context, legal framework, economic context, socio-cultural context, and safety.
- The report describes India as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.” It highlights that “supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu far-right, wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking.”