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THE NEWS

In the annual global press freedom index by Reporter Without Borders analysis, India has dropped two places, to be ranked 140th out of 180 countries.

WHAT IS THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX?

    • The World Press Freedom Index is the index which assess the freedom of press in 180 countries across the globe.
    • It is an annual ranking of countries complied and published by Reporters Without Borders, based upon the organization’s own assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), is a non- profit organization that works to document and combat attacks on journalists around the world.

KEY-HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INDEX:

      • The World Press Freedom Index 2019′, topped by Norway for the third year running while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th).
      • An increase in cyber-harassment caused Sweden (third) to lose one place in the index.
      • Africa’s Ethiopia (up 40 at 110th) and Gambia (up 30 at 92nd) have significantly improved this year.
      • South Asia: South Asia in general features poorly on the index, with Pakistan dropping three places to 142, and Bangladesh dropping four places to 150.
      • Bottom line: Both Vietnam (176th) and China (177th) have fallen one place and Turkmenistan (down two at 180th) is now last, replacing North Korea (up one at 179th).
      • Ever-increasing numbers: The number of nations which were considered safe for journalists, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media, RSF concludes.
      • Increased hostility:The 2019 index finds an increased sense of hostility towards journalists across the world, with violent attacks in India leading to at least six Indian journalists being killed in the line of their work last year.
      • Hatred: In its 2019 index, RSF finds that hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear around the world.

CURRENT STATUS OF PRESS IN INDIA:

      • Hate campaigns: In reference to India, the index found an alarming rate of coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy “Hindutva”.
      • Gender targeted attacks: The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. 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.
      • Criminals & corrupt personalities triggering attack: Violence against journalists including attacks by Maoist fighters and reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt politicians, police violence, attack is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in the country.
      • Murder: Last year, at least 6 Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work. A number of doubts surround a seventh case. These murders highlighted the many dangers that Indian journalists face, especially those working for non-English-language media outlets in rural India.

HOW MUCH MEDIA IS IMPORTANT FOR DEMOCRACY?

      • In the world’s biggest democracy, the “true liberty” can be guarded on through advancement and diffusion of knowledge at every level. Seen in this light, the media performs the major and most crucial three functions in the society:
        • Gives a voice to the voiceless people
        • creates a forum for a dignified dialectic
        • constructs an agenda to produce democratic and progressive outcomes.
      • To do justice to these responsibilities of media, it is imperative that the media report the truth objectively and portray a diversity of issues and opinions in the country.

WHAT INDIAN CONSTITUTION PROVIDES TO INDIAN JOURNALISTS?

      • The legal framework of freedom the press in a democracy like India has been inspired by international bodies such as the United Nations, United States Constitution and British Constitution.
      • The basic documents of the United Nations recognized the predominant position of freedom of speech and expression as a basic democratic right.
      • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (Article 19) reads:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium and regardless of frontiers.”

      • No specific right: Unfortunately, the Indian Constitution does not grant “Freedom of Speech” to the Indian press specifically.
      • The Indian Press thus obtains its freedom of expression through Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution that grants Freedom of Speech and Expression to the citizens.
      • Ironically, Article 19(1) (a) is subjected to reasonable restrictions specified in Article 19(2), which limit the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
      • Simply put, the freedom of the press is not absolute, just as the freedom of expression is not. Public Interest has to be safeguard by article 19(1)(2) which lays down reasonable limitations to the freedom of expression in matters affecting:
        • Sovereignty and integrity of the State
        • Security of the State
        • Friendly relations with foreign countries
        • Public order
        • Decency and morality
        • Contempt of court
        • Defamation
        • Incitement to an offence

THE MANY CHALLENGES FACED BY MEDIA:

      • No freedom: The prime problem is freedom. The media freedom is under great threat. The true test of a robust democracy is the independence of its media.
      • Regional discrimination: Also, 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.
      • Life-threatening attacks: The disturbing fact is that the country is becoming unsafe for journalists who speak truth. Sadly, many attacks on journalists go unreported, as reporters often succumb to threats from local politicians, policemen, and self-appointed vigilantes.
      • Self-censorship: The drop in ranking has been directly linked to the existence of India’s sedition law that encourages self-censorship particularly in a period of heightened nationalism.

ABOUT PRESS COUNCIL OF INDIA:

      • First established in 1966, the Press Council of India aimed to preserve the freedom of the press and for maintaining and improving the standards of press in the country.
      • Press Council of India is a statutory quasi-judicial body which acts as the watchdog of the press.
      • At present the function of the council is governed under the Press Council Act, 1978.
      • It adjudicates the complaints against and by the press for violation of ethics and for violation of the freedom of the press respectively.

CONCLUSION:

So the matter before us is not the 140th ranking. It is whether the press will get due freedom and if political parties are ready to address it through their manifestos. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. If the media is provided with good backup and strong rules in favour of them, it can effectively keep a check on other elements of the country’s administration thus leading to a transparent and accountable system. Unfortunately, this is not the actual case with India. To strengthen the structure of media, there is an urgent need to protect journalists, while ensuring that the media as a whole functions objectively and adhere to journalists ethics.

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