Apart from being ranked below countries like Afghanistan, the freedom of press in India faces various other threats
With India being swept by a wave of ultra-patriotism, journalists have increasingly come under threat from various radical campaigns targeted at curbing ‘anti-national’ streams of thought. These crusades have even gone from clicks to bricks as various scribes have also faced physical threats.
In addition, the government has regulated foreign funding to limit neutral international influence on the coverage of certain issues. Reporting remains a challenge in sensitive areas of Kashmir and the ‘red belt’ around Chhattisgarh. For those who do not abide by self-censorship means, there is also a rising risk of being slapped with sedition charges.
Thus on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day today, here’s why we need to introspect as a country and as the citizens of democracy that is a result of several decades of the freedom struggle, an integral pillar of which was the media.
The World Press Freedom Index for 2017, published by Reporters Without Borders, ranked India at a dismal 136, behind countries like Afghanistan and even Nepal! According to the latest annual report by media watchdog The Hoot, 54 journalists have come under attack in the last 16 months, through 2016 and the first quarter of 2017. If a total of 142 journalist deaths during 2014-15 (revealed by the minister of state for home affairs) is an indication to go by, the actual number might be even higher.
The Hoot’s 2016 report also revealed a trend of filing sedition cases on topics that were considered inconvenient by the powers that be. Beginning with JNU, no less than 40 such cases were filed last year. In 2017, five cases have reportedly been filed so far, in Assam, Bihar, Punjab (on 66 students which was subsequently dropped), Haryana and Delhi.
The report also states that the internet was shut down more than 30 times in 2016 while 14 such instances have already occurred this year. It’s usually the Kashmir valley that is om the receiving end of these diktats despite questions of the constitutional validity of such actions and who the power lies with, under Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Lipstick Under My Burkha became the latest film to be banned by the Central Board of Film Certification after the likes of Padmavati, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Udta Punjab and others have made headlines for various reasons. Other forms of art, which are equally integral rocks of freedom of press, have also frequently come under the axe as a result of pressure from political parties and religious groups.
Calling it a ‘weakening of the landmark RTI Act,’ The Wire reports that as of April 1, 2016, the number of second appeals and complaints stood at 34,982 cases. Other data shows that a large number of rejections happen under the ‘others’ category, with four out of every ten RTI applications being rejected for reasons apart from those permitted by the RTI Act.
Image: RK Laxman’s cartoon from Pinterest