India’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index has slipped to 161 out of 180 countries, according to the latest report released by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In 2022, India was ranked at 150.
India thus finds itself among the 31 countries where RSF believes the situation for journalists is “very serious.”
“The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in “the world’s largest democracy”, ruled since 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right,” read RSF document.
The World Press Freedom Index evaluates countries based on five sub-indicators: Political, Economic, Legislative, Social, and Security indicators. India’s rank in the Security indicator category is particularly concerning, as it has dropped to 172 out of 180 countries. This indicates that India ranks worse than all but eight countries when it comes to ensuring the safety of journalists. The countries that rank worse than India in terms of journalist safety are China, Mexico, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and Myanmar, in that order, with Myanmar at the bottom.
The security indicator assesses a country’s capacity to gather and distribute news and information using journalistic practices and values without undue risk of bodily harm, psychological or emotional distress, or professional consequences, such as loss of employment, confiscation of equipment, or destruction of media infrastructure.
RSF has identified numerous significant issues with India’s media environment, including the concentration of media ownership:
“…the abundance of media outlets conceals tendencies toward the concentration of ownership, with only a handful of sprawling media companies at the national level, including the Times Group, HT Media Ltd, The Hindu Group and Network18. Four dailies share three quarters of the readership in Hindi, the country’s leading language. The concentration is even more marked at the regional level for local language publications such as Kolkata’s Bengali-language Anandabazar Patrika, the Mumbai-based daily Lokmat, published in Marathi, and Malayala Manorama, distributed in southern India. This concentration of ownership in the print media can also be observed in the TV sector with major TV networks such as NDTV. The state-owned All India Radio (AIR) network owns all news radio stations.”
“The prime example is undoubtedly the Reliance Industries group led by Mukesh Ambani, now a personal friend of Modi’s, who owns more than 70 media outlets that are followed by at least 800 million Indians. Similarly, the takeover of the NDTV channel at the end of 2022 by tycoon Gautam Adani, who is also very close to Narendra Modi, signalled the end of pluralism in the mainstream media.”
According to RSF, journalists in India are harassed through legal means as well, such as being charged with sedition and criminal defamation by those in power.
“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, who are branded as “anti-national”,” the report states.
It also talks about the lack of diversity in Indian newsrooms. “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. For example, fewer than 15% of the participants in major evening talk shows are women.”
While speaking about the safety of journalists in India, RSF notes: “With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.” The report specifically talks about the targeted harassment of women journalists online and the ongoing police interference in how the press is treated in Kashmir.
Every year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international NGO headquartered in Paris with consultative status with the United Nations, publishes the World Press Freedom Index to assess and compare the level of media freedom in 180 countries and territories in the previous year. RSF aims to defend and promote media freedom.