World Press Freedom Day: Why India's ranking below UAE, Namibia raises questions about methodology

On April 21, Reporters without Borders released its latest ratings on Press Freedom on Monday and India was ranked even lower than last year.

While Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland and Denmark made up the top 3, India was ranked 142. Its neighbour Pakistan was 145, while Bangladesh was 151.

Reacting to the report, on World Press Freedom Day, both the Congress and BJP tweeted negatively. While the Congress criticised the government, the BJP questioned the rating.

“India slipped two places in World Press Freedom Index to 142. As we commemorate #WorldPressFreedomDay, we must remember that the BJP is hell bent on destroying this fourth pillar of democracy and we shouldn't let that happen. To all the journalists we would say, Daro Mat,” the Congress tweeted.

Meanwhile, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted, “Media has the power to inform and enlighten people. Media in India enjoy absolute freedom. We will expose, sooner than later, those surveys that tend to portray bad picture about "Freedom of Press" in India.

While the Press Freedom Index is one of the most widely accepted ways to rate countries, it too has its flaws. In the index, Namibia (28) is ranked higher than the United States (48) and United Kingdom (33). Botswana is ranked 39th in the index. Senior journalist Sandipan Deb pointed this out in a detailed Twitter thread, where he said that Namibian and Botswana journalists are subject to government threats and practice self-censorship.

He also added that the United Arab Emirates, whose media is owned by the Royal Family, has strict instructions to not write any negative story about any royal. “The trouble with this index is the methodology,” he writes.

Also, speaking about Indian journalists, Deb says that they have been killed in the line of duty by terrorists or Maoists.

There is no proof that any journalist has been killed by the government.

The RSF report stated: “With no murders of journalists in India in 2019, as against six in 2018, the security situation for the country’s media might seem, on the face of it, to have improved. However, there have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased.”

It added: “Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.

It added: "India’s score in this year’s World Press Freedom Index is heavily affected by the situation in Kashmir where, after rescinding the state’s autonomy, the federal government shut down fixed line and mobile Internet connections completely for several months, making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover what was happening in what has become a vast open prison.”

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