Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Tuesday questioned the credibility of the World Press Freedom Index before the Supreme Court in response to an observation from the bench, Live Law reported.

The court was hearing petitions challenging the early release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case.

Justice KM Joseph referred to the press freedom ranking before the court ordered the publication of a notice in the newspapers about the next date of the court hearing slated for July 10. The notice was aimed at convicts who had not previously been served notices by the court in the case, according to The Hindu.

Justice Joseph and Mehta, who was appearing for the Centre, engaged in a discussion on the choice of newspapers in which the notice could be published.

“Weekly, there are one lakh newspapers in India,” the judge said. “I hope I don’t get misquoted, but in the ranking, we are now at 161, in terms of journalistic freedom.”

India’s rank in the World Press Freedom Index fell from 150 in 2022 to 161 this year out of 180 countries, media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières said in report on May 2. In its neighbourhood, India ranks below Pakistan (150), Afghanistan (152), Sri Lanka (135) and Nepal (95), but fares better than Bangladesh (163) and China (179).

At Tuesday’s hearing, Mehta rejected the findings of the report and asked who was carrying out the ranking exercise. “It depends upon who is giving the rating,” he said. “It depends upon the person. I can have my own form and give India the first place.”

The Modi government has previously questioned the methodology of Reporters Sans Frontières and claimed that India has a vibrant free press.

On December 22, 2021, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said that the Centre disagreed with India’s rank on the 2021 index. In a written reply to the Lok Sabha, he claimed that the report was based on a small sample size and gave little or no importance to the “fundamentals of democracy”.

India’s ranking on the index fell from 142 in 2021 to 150 in 2022.