It’s one of the most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly: RSF
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a French NGO, has again placed India at 142nd rank out of 180 countries. This despite the fact that for a year, under directions from the Cabinet Secretary, an Index Monitoring Cell worked to improve the world rankings, including a meeting between Ambassador to France with the RSF officials to lobby for a change in the ranking in the index compiled by them.
In 2016, India’s rank was 133 which has steadily climbed down to 142 in 2020. The RSF report says India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. They 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.
Fearing such an adverse assessment, in February last year, on the directions of Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, the Index Monitoring Cell was set up in 18 Ministries to find ways to improve the position on 32 international indices. Information and Broadcasting Ministry was delegated to look at the freedom of press index.
As per the report of this Index Monitoring Cell, accessed by The Hindu, on April 26 last year, the PIB Additional Director General first wrote to Chairman of the RSF Pierre Haski asking for criteria for the survey on the basis of which they compile the index, for better understanding of the ranking. This was followed by a meeting between Ambassador to France Javed Ashraf with RSF’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire and Head of Asia Pacific desk Daniel Bastard.
The minutes of this September meeting are part of the report of the Cell. Mr. Ashraf said the openness of the government to be criticised and questioned with respect to subjects like economy, international affairs and defence deals like Rafale are indicators of press freedom.
Questions on Internet ban in J&K
The RSF representatives however questioned the extended Internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir from August 5, 2019 which went on to nearly a year. The Ambassador said the shutdown was for the security of the region. “Members of the press could access the Internet through the Internet kiosks set up by the government and there was active reporting in Indian and international media on the situation in Kashmir, which could only have been possible with unhindered access to the Internet and freedom of the press,” the minutes say.
The minutes also note that on the issue of violence raised by the RSF, Mr. Ashraf said “many incidents reported as attacks on journalists are often a consequence of the law and order situation in some areas of India. This is often misrepresented as targeted attacks on journalists by the State in western media”.