Global media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières has named Prime Minister Narendra Modi in its list of 37 heads of states who massively cracked down on press freedom. The watchdog labelled them as “press freedom predators”.
Apart from Modi, this year’s list featured North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were the new entrants to the list.
Modi has been on Reporters Sans Frontières’ “press freedom predators” gallery ever since he took office in 2014.
“After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014,” Reporters Sans Frontières said in its entry about Modi.
The global media watchdog added: “His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.”
Reporters Sans Frontières pointed out that journalists in India risked losing their jobs if they criticised the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government. It also highlighted how certain media outlets gave prominent coverage to Modi’s “extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation” to get record viewership.
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The media watchdog also highlighted that journalists in India risked imprisonment under the sedition law and how they were subjected to online attacks. “Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed,” Reporters Sans Frontières said.
Reporters Sans Frontières also spoke about the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh and the virulent targeting of Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt, who it said “were subjected to calls for them to be gang-raped and their personal data was posted online to facilitate attacks”.
Lankesh, who was known for her strident views against Hindutva politics, was shot dead at her home in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017. Her murder sparked protests around the country, and was seen by many as another in a spate of attacks that have targeted activists and writers critical of the right wing. At least 12 people have been arrested in the case so far.
In April, Reporters Sans Frontières had said that India was one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
In the latest World Press Freedom Index, the watchdog said that while India had not slipped further from its position at 142 out of 180 countries, it continued to be classified as “bad” for journalism – a title it shared with countries like Brazil, Mexico and Russia.