India figures low at 133 in world media freedom index

Washington: Media in India continues to be under stress as the country figures low at 133 out of 180 nations in the latest press freedom index, an international watchdog said on Wednesday, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being 'indifferent' to threats against scribes.

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The damning report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also painted a sad picture of the world media freedom that has suffered a 'deep and disturbing decline' due to pressure from 'governments, ideologies and private-sector interests'.

About India, the 2016 report said that journalists and bloggers are attacked and "anathematised by various religious groups that are quick to take offence", referring to growing right wing extremism in the country.

"At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government."

The report alleged that "Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists".

"Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials," the report said.

The report however said the situation was 'worsening in India' although 'its media are dynamic and much more capable of playing the role of democracy’s watchdog than the media in most other countries in last third of the index'.

The index measures media pluralism, independence, the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries.

It is based on a questionnaires filled out by experts around the world as well as on quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence perpetrated against reporters.

"Frequent lawsuits against journalists by local officials and draconian legislation on defamation and online publications impose major constraints on the media and encourage self-censorship. But violence has emerged as the main brake on media activity in recent years, especially for reporters in the field and investigative journalists," the report said.

The report said Indian journalists were exposed to 'growing violence' irrespective of the place where they work.

"As well as frequent verbal and physical violence, attacks by armed groups are on the rise in several states and the local authorities have had little success in reining it in."

The watchdog urged the Indian government to launch a national action plan for the safety of journalists and for the prevention of dangers and threats to them.

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