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Modi supporters blamed for attack on journos, as India slips in press freedom index

By Our Representative
In what may prove to be a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time when he is seeking a second term in office from India's electorate, the latest rankings released by the high-profile Reporters Without Borders (RWB), based in Paris, shows that India has slipped by two points from 138 in a year to 140 out of 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index, worst since 2015.
In a strongly-worded commentary titled "Attacked online and physically", RWB says, "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."
Pointing out that "at least six Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2018" and "a number of doubts surround a seventh case", RWB says, "These murders highlighted the many dangers Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural areas."
RWB notes, "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."
It continues, "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."
Underling that "the campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women", RWB says, "The emergence of a #MeToo movement in the media in 2018 has lifted the veil on many cases of harassment and sexual assault to which women reporters have been subjected."
Especially taking strong exception to sedition cases against journalists, it states, "Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which 'sedition' is punishable by life imprisonment. The mere threat of such a prosecution encourages self-censorship."
Referring to press freedom in sensitive regions, RWB says, "Coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult. Foreign reporters are barred from Kashmir and the Internet is often disconnected there. When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by paramilitaries acting with the central government’s tacit consent."
RWB continues, "India’s journalists are being attacked online as well as in the field. All those who dare to criticize Modi’s Hindu nationalist ideology online are branded as 'anti-Indian' scum who must be purged. This results in appalling cyber-harassment campaigns in which journalists are threatened not only with death but also rape (as the troll armies like harassing women journalists, in particular)."
It believes, "Threats, insults and attacks are now part of the 'occupational hazards for journalists in ... India, where critics of Hindu nationalism are branded as 'anti-Indian' in online harassment campaigns."
Among the neighbours, RWB ranks China, "already festering near the bottom of the Index", 177th because of the "monopoly of power" exercised by its president, Xi Jinping, who "amended the constitution in order to be 'president for life' in March 2018."
It comments, "China’s anti-democratic model, based on Orwellian high-tech information surveillance and manipulation, is all the more alarming because Beijing is now promoting its adoption internationally. As well as obstructing the work of foreign correspondents within its borders, China is now trying to establish a 'new world media order' under its control."
Pakistan ranks142nd, down three points, because, says RWB, "The military establishment’s harassment of the media in the run-up to the general election in July 2018 resulted in an increase in censorship comparable to the worst moments during Pakistan’s military dictatorships."
India's ranking for last four years
It adds, "Reporters are also exposed in the field in Pakistan, where the environment is extremely unsafe. At least three were killed in connection with their work in 2018."
Interestingly, even as describing the security situation in Afghanistan, where 16 media professionals were killed in connection with their reporting, nine of them in a double bombing that explicitly targeted the press, as "worrying", RWB ranks the country 121st, giving credit to "the government’s efforts."
As for other neighbours RWB says, "Although less dramatic, the situation was also worrying in Bangladesh (150th), where reporters covering protests and the election were the targets of unprecedented violence", adding, "Physical violence against journalists is encouraged by the fact that the perpetrators usually enjoy complete impunity, as is still the case in Sri Lanka (126th)."
Then, "The use of social networks is also worrying in Myanmar (138th), where disinformation and anti-Rohingya hate messages spread on Facebook without being moderated, benefitting the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who reacted with a deafening silence to the seven-year jail sentences imposed on Reuters journalists Wa Loneand Kyaw Soe Oo in September 2018 for trying to investigate the Rohingya genocide."
RWB ranks Norway first for the third year running, while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th). At the bottom of the Index, both Vietnam (176th) and China (177th) have fallen one place, Eritrea (up 1 at 178th) is third from last, despite making peace with its neighbour Ethiopia, and Turkmenistan (down two at 180th) is now last, replacing North Korea (up one at 179th).
Especially commenting on Singapore, widely regarded by many as a developmental model India must follow, RWB says, "The Chinese system of total news control is increasingly serving as a model for other anti-democratic regimes such as Singapore (151st), which has established self-censorship as the norm, Brunei (152nd) and Thailand (136th)."
Among other major countries, Russia is down one, ranking 149th, because "the Kremlin has used arrests, arbitrary searches and draconian laws to step up the pressure on independent media and the Internet", and the United States ranks 48th, down three, "as a result of an increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump’s comments."
Calling media climate US “problematic”, RWB says, "Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection."

Providing classification, RWB says, "Only 24 percent of the 180 countries and territories are classified as “good” (coloured white on the Press Freedom Map) or “fairly good” (yellow), as opposed to 26 percent last year." India is coloured red, suggesting it is one of the 29 percent countries where the situation is categorised as "difficult."

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