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ICC Note:

A report released by Reporters Without Borders recently detailed how press freedom in India is continuing to steadily decline. Attacks on journalists reporting on stories considered ‘anti-national’ by Hindu extremists has led to much self-censorship the Reporters Without Borders report said. Stories regarding the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities unfortunately falls within the category of stories considered anti-national by Hindu extremists meaning that many instances of persecution remain hidden from the public and international community. 

05/01/2017 India (Scroll) – International media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders released its annual press freedom index on Wednesday, and the results for India are sobering. India dropped three places, down to 136 of the 180 countries on the list. It came in just a few spots ahead of Pakistan, far behind neighbors like Bhutan and Nepal and even countries like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Reporters Without Borders explained why India declined.

“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media. Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals. Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government.”

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mentioned the dangers faced by journalists in the past, his government has done nothing to act on his stated concerns. Considering that the Reporters Without Borders analysis blames Hindutva supporters for the situation, it is unlikely that the government will pay heed to it.

Nonetheless, it would be worthwhile for it to acknowledge Reporters Without Borders’ evaluation of the situation. If nothing else, the organization has been consistent in its view. In 2013 for example, the index put India at the 140th position – the lowest it had fallen to since 2002 – and pointed out the increasing impunity for violence against journalists and the censorship of the internet.

Given that background, the organization’s report on how the threat of sedition charges leads to self-censorship, the lack of protective mechanisms for those covering sensitive areas, the frequent internet shutdowns and the attacks on local media is important.

Defenders of the government routinely insist that comments about dangers to press freedom in India are misplaced because of the existence of news organizations that are critical of the ruling administration. Yet even the most nationalist journalist would admit that there is a huge gap between working in the mainstream press in one of India’s big cities and attempting to do journalism anywhere.

The experience of Scroll’s Malini Subramaniam, who was violently hounded out of Bastar by vigilantes working with in concert with the local authorities, is a reminder of how difficult it is to report from areas where the government would prefer to be shielded from scrutiny.

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