India drops by two ranks on World Press Freedom Index

“Hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies,” the report read while stating the reason for drop in India’s rank.

by exchange4media Staff
Published - Apr 26, 2018 8:55 AM Updated: Apr 26, 2018 8:55 AM

India’s rank fell by two places, from 136 to 138, in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“Hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies,” the report read while stating the reason for drop in India’s rank.

Now, according to the index, India is just one rank ahead of Pakistan which stands at 139th position and among India’s neighbouring Bhutan holds the best position at 94 where as other countries have acquired as embarrassing positions as India with China (176), Bangladesh (146), Nepal (106) and Sri Lanka (131).

Like previous year’s report, Norway and North Korea have held first and last positions respectively in a list of 180 countries.

At least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work.

They included the newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh, who had been the target of a hate campaign on social networks.

Three other journalists were killed for their professional activity in March 2018. Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.

No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship.

Coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult.

Foreign reporters are barred from the region and the Internet is often disconnected there. When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent.

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index reflects growing animosity towards journalists

Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies.

The climate of hatred is steadily more visible in the Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year.

Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (down two at 157th) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned.

More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.

The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. 
A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.

The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (down six at 133rd), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination.”

Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most.

In the Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), President Milos Zeman turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the words “for journalists.”

In Slovakia, (down 10 at 27th), then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas.”

A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February 2018, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a targeted car-bombing in Malta (down 18 at 65th).

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire."

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