No country for journalists

No country for journalists

Journalists take part in a silent protest to condemn the killing of veteran journalist Shujaat Bhukari, in Kolkata. Credit: PTI Photo

The India Press Freedom Report 2020, released by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, presents a bleak picture of the state of media freedom in the country, buttressing it with many details and facts and figures. The report is exhaustive and gives accounts of attacks on journalists, classifying them on the basis of the regions where they took place, the gender of the journalists, the nature of the attacks and the laws which were invoked against them. It says that at least 228 journalists, including 12 female journalists, and two media houses were targeted during the year. Thirteen journalists were killed, 37 arrested or detained and 101 physically assaulted. At least 64 FIRs were filed and a variety of laws, including the UAPA, were invoked against them. Uttar Pradesh leads the states in targeting journalists. Both State actors and non-State actors like mobs, miscreants, members of political parties and social media users have targeted journalists.

The report is not surprising. Press freedom has been declining in the country and the pressures and attacks on the media have steadily increased over the years. It has been recognised and pointed out within the country and outside by journalists, their organisations and other agencies. There is also increasing awareness of the dwindling of freedom in general society. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has created a gallery of world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who have constrained press freedom. In the World Press Freedom Report 2021, India is ranked 142 out of 180 countries, and it has moved down by nine positions in the last five years. India is classified as a country that is “bad’’ for journalism and one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Freedom House has also downgraded India’s status from “free’’ to a “partly free’’ country on the basis of the level of civil liberties and political rights of citizens. Press freedom is an important indicator of these rights.

There are various ways in which press freedom is suppressed, curbed or circumscribed. There are physical attacks on or intimidation of journalists. Cases are filed against them under draconian laws which make even bail difficult to get. It is not only individual journalists but media organisations also come under pressure. Posts on social media attract adverse notice and action. The report cites a range of reasons, like reporting on various matters, protests against the actions and policies of the government and expression of critical opinions on certain issues, for filing cases against journalists or for taking other actions against them. Apart from governments, non-State actors also pose threats to press freedom. Freedom of the press is the breath of democracy. Its diminishment will endanger democracy.