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The Neutral & Progressive Indian Press

India has recently been degraded in the Global Index of Freedom of the Press and Journalists. In the 2023 Index published by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on May 3 (2023), the South Asian nation slipped to 161 out of 180 countries. This is the lowest in the history of Independent India.

It may be noted that India was ranked 150th in this list in 2022, and 142nd in 2021. Even neighbouring Pakistan and Sri Lanka have fared better. While Pakistan has been placed at 150 (an improvement from 157th position in 2022), Sri Lanka has been ranked 135th in 2023 (as against 146th in 2022). Incidentally, Pakistan has experienced military rule four times since its Independence in 1947.

The Indian Press, a product of the Freedom Struggle, was once considered as neutral and progressive. However, the scenario has changed since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. As per the RSF report, Indian laws are still in favour of protecting media professionals, theoretically. Unfortunately, laws, related to defamation, contempt of court and posing a threat to national security, are being misused against journalists. Media persons are also being framed in various cases, if they criticise the Government.

Soon after the RSF released the index, the Indian Women’s Press Corps, the Press Club of India and the Press Association issued a joint statement, expressing serious concern over the country’s dip in the index. The statement read: “The indices of Press Freedom have worsened in several countries, including India, according to the latest RSF report. For Developing Democracies in the Global South where deep pockets of inequities exist, the media’s role cannot be understated. Likewise the constraints on Press Freedom due to hostile working conditions, like contractorisation, have to also be challenged. Insecure working conditions can never contribute to a Free Press.Shashi Tharoor, the leader of the Indian National Congress (the main Opposition party), too, voiced concern over the embarrassing development. He wrote on Twitter: “Time for all of us to hang our heads in shame: India slips in World Press Freedom Index, ranks 161 out of 180 countries.

Meanwhile, Norway, Ireland and Denmark have secured the top three positions in the Press Freedom Index, and Vietnam, China and North Korea have occupied the bottom three. RSF, the international NGO whose self-proclaimed aim is to defend and promote Media Freedom, defines Press Freedom as “the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety”. It keeps hammering on public conscience by publishing the Global Ranking of Press Freedom every year.

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