media freedom

I&B Ministry the ‘most active censoring agency’ in 2018 so far, says report on press freedom

The government announced ‘several policy measures’ to monitor the media, but rolled back only one, media watchdog The Hoot said.

A report on press freedom in India has accused politicians, the government, Hindu right-wing organisations and even media outlets of undermining freedom of expression in the first four months of 2018. Media watchdog The Hoot released its annual report on Wednesday, on the eve of World Press Freedom Day.

In the report, the media watchdog called the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the “most active censoring agency” during the period, as it announced “several policy measures” to monitor the media, “but rolled back only one”.

The organisation recorded 100 incidents of freedom of expression being undermined between January and April. Three of them involved journalists being killed while there were 21 cases of attacks, threats or arrests.

The report refuted the government’s data on attacks on journalists last year. The organisation cited its report in January, which recorded a “verified number” of 46 attacks in 2017, to counter a claim that Union minister Hansraj Ahir had made later. In February, Ahir told the Rajya Sabha that 15 journalists were attacked in 2017, for which 26 people had been arrested.

“The minister also said that the home ministry has no information on whether any organisation or organisations were responsible for the attacks on media persons,” The Hoot said. “But, as the findings of The Hoot show, the perpetrators are only too well known.”

At least three attacks on journalists were allegedly perpetrated by the police and another three by members of right-wing organisations, the report said. Hindu right-wing organisations were allegedly involved in three of five instances of journalists being threatened.

There have been 25 instances already this year of authorities blocking the internet in parts of the country, the report said.

Last week, India slipped in the annual World Press Freedom Index for the second straight year, falling two places to rank 138th among 180 countries. Reporters Sans Frontières, the organisation that releases the list, had noted that “troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay” often target journalists with hate speech online.

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