Press freedom in India under serious attack, says report

Written by: Maitreyee Boruah
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Bengaluru, May 4: All is not well with the Indian journalists. Apart from being constantly bullied by critics on the social media, the journalist fraternity in the country is facing serious threats.

As a part of the World Press Freedom Day, marked across the globe on May 3 (Tuesday), The Hoot--a media watchdog--in its report states that between January and April 2016 there were at least 10 defamation cases, two legal notices, six cases of uncalled police action, one death, four legal actions, 26 attacks and six death threats against journalists in the country.

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The report adds that Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have been particularly bad for press freedom, as defamation cases and assaults on journalists are frequent in these states. The report brings to notice that journalists working in the hinterlands of the country are the most vulnerable and face great amount of threat while doing their work.

Sevanti Ninan, editor, The Hoot, which regularly conducts research pertaining to the media to strengthen its independence, said there has been a decline in press freedom in the last few years.

"The greater vulnerability is for journalists in districts and small towns. One reason for this that many of them are now using RTI to investigate local scams and they pose a threat to the powerful in government and in politics," Ninan told IANS.

"There is no pressure group at the national level which maintains pressure on the central and state governments in cases regarding journalists. The Editors Guild and other bodies are not really proactive in this regard. The Press Council publishes reports, but they have no impact," she said.

She cited instances of death of three journalists covering investigative stories over the last year and said there should be a law guaranteeing press freedom, which is different from free speech.

The senior journalist highlighted the issue of four arrests of journalists in Chhattisgarh since July 2015.

"The state government of Tamil Nadu is very active in filing defamation cases against journalists. There have been several already this year," she said.

Ninan said threats to editorial independence "come from proprietors and advertisers among others" while physical threats come from a variety of sources including the state police.

Even India ranked an abysmally low at 133 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index which says Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems "indifferent" to the threats against journalists.

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