Media is referred to as the fourth estate of democracy. It is the pillar that balances and fixes accountability in the three-tier system comprising the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.
The takeover of NDTV by the Adani Group, the shutdown of Amnesty International in 2020, and the raids on BBC offices are all indicators that press freedom has taken a hit in the country.
On World Press Day, Onmanorama takes a look at how India fares in terms of press freedom.
According to World Press Freedom Index 2023, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, India slipped from a rank of 150 in 2022 to 161 in 2023. In the past nine years, the country's ranking has slipped by 21 ranks from 140 in 2014.
While Norway was ranked first for the seventh year running, Ireland climbed ahead of Denmark to secure the second spot in the list.
The last three slots were occupied by Asian countries- North Korea (180), China (179) and Vietnam (178). Surprisingly India's neighbours like Afghanistan (152), Pakistan (150) and Sri Lanka (135) showed a better ranking of press freedom. According to the report, the change in government in Pakistan helped it improve its ranking by 7 positions.
According to the report, the environment for journalists (especially the legal framework at the local level, and widespread violence) has shifted from 'problematic to 'very bad' in India. Dropping by 11 positions, India currently ranks 161 in the indicator.
"In India, media takeovers by oligarchs close to Prime Minister Modi have jeopardised pluralism," the report said while referring to NDTV's takeover by the Adani group.
The report states that though India has a huge media presence of over 10,000 newspapers and almost 400 TV channels, the ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few media groups.
While referring to the legal framework, the report stated that the charges of defamation, sedition, contempt of court and endangering national security were increasingly used against media outlets and journalists critical of the government. The arrest of Malayali journalist Sidique Kaappan is a case in point.
These repeated violations undermine media self-regulatory bodies, such as the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC), the report stated.
The report also slams the mainstream media for lack of representation. “For example, fewer than 15 per cent of the participants in major evening talk shows are women,” it said.
In the World Press Freedom Index report, each country or territory’s score is evaluated using five contextual indicators that reflect the press freedom situation in all of its complexity: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety. India falls in the red zone for three out of the five indicators.
Political context evaluates the degree of support and respect for media autonomy vis-à-vis political pressure from the state. India falls in the 'very serious range' for this indicator with its rank dropping from 145 to 169 in this category.
Legal framework refers to the level of censorship, access to information, ability to protest sources and penalty for violence against journalists.
India's ranking has dropped from 149 to 155 in this category and the indicator falls in the red zone of 'very serious'.
Economic context includes the difficulty of creating or maintaining a media outlet and constraints linked to non-state actors and the ability to promote business interests. Falling in the 'difficult' range, India's ranking has dropped from 120 to 144 for this indicator.
Sociocultural context includes attacks on press issues such as gender, class, ethnicity and religion; and pressure to not question certain interest groups or power groups.
With a drop from 127 to 143, the country's index has shifted from the 'problematic' range to 'difficult' for this indicator.
Safety is the ability to identify, gather and disseminate news and information in accordance with journalistic methods and ethics, without unnecessary risk of bodily harm, psychological or emotional distress, or professional harm.
Falling in the red zone of 'very serious', India ranks among the bottom 10 countries when it comes to the safety of journalists. The rank has dropped from 163 to 172 for the indicator.