India slipped in the annual World Press Freedom Index for the second straight year, falling two places to rank 138th among 180 countries in the latest list released on Wednesday. The country was ranked 136th in 2015, gained three places to 133rd in 2016, and fell back to 136th last year.
In its 2018 report, media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières noted that “troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay” often target journalists with hate speech online. The report reiterated what it said last year – that self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and “radical nationalists” are increasingly threatening journalists with physical violence in “online smear campaigns”.
The organisation accused the central government of giving “tacit consent” to violence against journalists in Kashmir, a region where it said foreign reporters are barred and the internet is often disconnected.
Reporters Sans Frontières accused Hindu nationalists of trying to “purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate”. It also noted that “at least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work”.
Norway once again topped the list, while North Korea found itself at the bottom. The United States fell two places to 45th, Pakistan was ranked 139th, Russia 148th, and China was at 176th.
Across the world, hostility towards the media is no longer limited to authoritarian countries, the organisation said. “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,” it said. The latest index “reflects growing animosity towards journalists”, the organisation said.
The watchdog’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire warned that disputing the legitimacy of journalism is to “play with extremely dangerous political fire”. Politicians who fuel the hatred for reporters “bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda”, he said.