Context:

The World Press Freedom Index 2021 placed India at 142nd rank yet again out of 180 nations, same as the ranking in 2020.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Institutions and their reports), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Freedom of Speech)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the World Press Freedom Index?
  2. Highlights of the Report
  3. Highlights of the report specific to India
  4. Freedom of Press in India

What is the World Press Freedom Index?

  • World Press Freedom Index is an index published each year by the international journalism (non-profit body), Reporters Without Borders [also called Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF)].
  • RSF is an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF).
  • The World Press Freedom Index ranks countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.
  • It is NOT an indicator on the quality of journalism.
  • The parameters used in the World Press Freedom Index include pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Highlights of the Report

  • Journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries.
  • Only 12, i.e., 7% of the Indexed 180 countries can claim to offer a favorable environment for journalism.
  • The Report has raised concern about the larger Asia-Pacific region as several nations in an attempt to curb freedom of press have in place draconian laws on ‘sedition,’ ‘state secrets’ and ‘national security’.
  • Norway is Ranked 1st for the fifth year in the row, followed by Finland and Denmark.
  • China is ranked 177th and hence is just above the bottom 3 – Turkmenistan at 178, North Korea at 179 and Eritrea at the bottom.

Highlights of the report specific to India

  • India was ranked 142 in the year 2020 as well, thus showing no improvement in the environment it provides to its journalists.
  • India has fared poorly amongst its neighbours with Nepal at 106, Sri Lanka at 127 and Bhutan at 65. Pakistan is a close follower at 145th spot.
  • India is among the countries classified “bad” for journalism and is termed as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their jobs properly.
  • The report has blamed an environment of intimidation created by the nationalist government for any critical journalist often brandishing them as anti-state or anti national.
  • The situation is worrying in Kashmir, where incidents of harassment of reporters by police and paramilitaries have surfaced.

Reasons Behind India’s Poor Performance

  • Journalists are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.
  • The journalists have often been subjected to coordinated hate campaigns on social networks. Such campaigns are particularly violent when the targets are women.

Freedom of Press in India

  • Article 19, said to be the foundation of Democratic rule in India, guarantees freedom of speech and expression to Indian citizens only.
  • These freedoms are not absolute and they can all be curtailed by imposing some reasonable restriction.
  • Reasonable restrictions can be imposed (imposed only on the grounds mentioned in the constitution) only by authority of law and NOT by executive action alone.

Freedom of Speech and Expression actually covers:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Freedom of press
  3. Right to privacy
  4. Right to hoist the national flag
  5. Right to demonstration or picketing, but not right to strike
  6. Rights to Not Speak

Status of Freedom of Press

  • Unlike several countries such as USA, there is no separate provision guaranteeing the freedom of press, but the Supreme Court in Sakaal paper vs. Union of India case, has held that the freedom of press is included in the “freedom of expression” under Article 19(1) (a).
  • In Brij Bhushan case, SC clarified that there is no prior censorship on the media, i.e., no prior permission is needed.
  • 44th amendment, 1976 introduced Article 361A that provides protection to a person publishing proceeding of the Parliament and State Legislatures.

In the Indian Express case, it was clarified that the Freedom of Press includes:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Right to Publish
  3. Right to Circulate
  • In 1997, the Prasar Bharti Act grants autonomy to Doordarshan and All India Radio (which means it can criticize the state policies and actions).
  • In 1966, Press Council of India was created to regulate the print media.
  • The National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution (NCRWC) recommended that Freedom of Press be explicitly granted and not be left implied in the Freedom of Speech.

-Source: The Hindu

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