Little to cheer about for Indian media on Press Freedom Day

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his ‘support’ to the freedom of media on the eve of Press Freedom Day, Centre had on April 11 released some hard hitting facts and figures about how unsafe the media community is. According to the Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir 142 cases of attacks on journalist took place in 2014-15 and only 32 accused were arrested.

While the Centre has no data of the current and last year, but  according to The Hoot, a media watchdog in India, over the past 16 months, 54 attacks on journalists were reported, at least 3 news channels were banned, 45 internet shutdowns and 45 sedition cases against individuals and groups were registered.

The report said that seven journalists were killed, ‘preliminary police investigations could indicate professional reasons in only three cases’. There were 17 instances in 2016 of threats to journalists – serious cases of death threats, rape threats and intimidation – and two in 2017 till now,” the report said.

The Hoot report described an “overall sense of shrinking liberty” because of restrictions on the rights of citizens to information, internet access and online freedom, as well as various personal freedoms. In this backdrop, it said that the press cannot be truly free.

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has put India at 136th rank, which is three ranks below last years’.

The Hoot report has listed several incidents of censorship in the past 16 months. A 24-hour ban on NDTV India for allegedly revealing strategic information about the Indian Army’s operations during a militant attack on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January that year and the ban on ‘Kashmir Reader’ a Srinagar based Newspaper, being few of them.

Apart from the news media, Hoot also took note of the censorship on the internet and films in the country.

According to the report, there were 31 cases of internet being shutdown in various parts of India and 14 cases this year. Jammu and Kashmir government led the count with highest number of shutdowns in the past year.

The report said that the stories behind each attack on journalists and media reveal a clear and persistent pattern. “Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story, be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, an eviction drive, election campaigns, civic administration corruption, are targeted.”

The data with The Hoot shows that law-makers and law-enforcers are the prime culprits in the attacks and threats on the media. On twitter trolls and online abuse the report points out 25 instances of media persons being threatened in the course of carrying out their work.

The report said that in 2016 alone, 40 cases were filed against individuals or groups in various courts – while five cases have been filed in the first four months of this year.

In 2016, the Supreme Court passed several orders on defamation and sedition. In May 2016, the apex court upheld the validity of the criminal defamation law, stating that “the right to free speech is not absolute” and does not give anyone the right to hurt another’s reputation. However, in August, it clarified that mere criticism of government does not constitute defamation.

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