Nepal shines as India, rest of South Asia slip further on press freedom

iNDICA News Bureau-

If you thought or hoped, the condition of the press in India couldn’t get worse than it was last year, when the country stood 142nd on the World Press Freedom Index, think again.

This year India is ranked 150th out of 180 countries and territories that were evaluated by global media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), or Reporters Without Borders, according to its annual report released earlier this week.

In fact, India’s press freedom rank has been falling for some years now. While a chunk of the privately owned mainstream media, routinely lampooned as godi (lapdog) media in a play on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name, sings the praises of the government and talks up its achievements, India, along with most of its neighbors in South Asia, sinks lower in the global estimation of its media.

The sole bright spot in the region is the Himalayan republic of Nepal, which has climbed as many as 30 rungs to reach 76 from last year’s 106th rank.

Pakistan has slipped to 157 from 145, Sri Lanka to 146 from 127, Bangladesh to 162 from 152 and Myanmar to 176 from 140, the RSF report said.

This year, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Finland head the list in that order while North Korea remained at the bottom, PTI reported. Russia was placed 155th, down from 150th last year, while China climbed up two positions to 175.

“On World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders and nine other human rights organizations ask Indian authorities to stop targeting journalists and online critics for their work,” the international nonprofit organization said in a statement on its website. “More specifically, they should stop prosecuting them under counterterrorism and sedition laws.”

RSF urged India’s authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and release journalists detained on trumped-up or politically motivated charges for their critical reporting.

“The authorities’ targeting of journalists coupled with a broader crackdown on dissent has emboldened Hindu nationalists to threaten, harass and abuse journalists critical of the Indian government, both online and offline, with impunity,” it noted.

RSF called for “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial” investigations into threats to and attacks on journalists and critics of the government, including from officials. “Journalists should not have to risk their freedom and lives to do their work,” it said.

Three national bodies, the Indian Women’s Press Corps, the Press Club of India and the Press Association, said in a statement, “While job insecurities have grown, so have attacks on press freedoms seen an exponential rise.”

Journalists have been arrested under draconian laws for flimsy reasons, they said, adding that some have even faced threats to their lives from “self-styled custodians of the law” on social media.

Noting that freedom of the press is integral to the functioning of a vibrant democracy, they said the media has to come together “to reclaim its role towards realization of this objective”.