Between January 2016 and April 2017, India has witnessed at least 54 reported attacks on journalists, three instances of television news channels being banned, 45 internet shutdowns, and as many sedition cases against individuals and groups. Besides, seven journalists were reportedly killed in this period, and one of them was targeted because of his work. These figures and other details were released by The Hoot, a non-profit media watchdog, on Tuesday, the eve of World Press Freedom Day.
In its India Freedom Report, the media watchdog said that there was an “overall sense of shrinking liberty” in India. The Hoot also argued that in an atmosphere where there are restrictions on the rights of citizens to information, internet access and online freedom, the press cannot be truly free.
The perpetrators include the police, politicians, Twitter trolls, mining mafia, unruly mobs, and even lawyers. The Hoot then went on to argue that these attacks indicate that investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous in India. “The stories behind each of the attacks reveal a clear and persistent pattern,” the report says. “Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story... are under attack.”
This comes almost a week after India had found itself three ranks lower in the latest World Press Freedom Index report released by media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières. The country, which ranked 136 on the list, was placed in the “difficult situation” slot, as were most nations in its immediate neighbourhood such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of anti-national thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,”the report said. “Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”
Moving beyond the press, The Hoot also takes note of censorship of other media like the internet, cinema and arts. In these 16 months, the Central Board for Film Certification censored or blocked films for a range of reasons like homophobia, abusive language, use of Pakistani artistes, “depicting female fantasies”, “showing female innerwear”, “showing a state in a bad light” and “resemblance” to the prime minister.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday hailed the importance of press freedom day. “[It is] a day to reiterate our unwavering support towards a free and vibrant press, which is vital in a democracy,” said Modi on Twitter.