India slipped three places in the 2017 world press freedom rankings to 136th among 180 countries, the dismal performance blamed on “Modi’s nationalism” and growing “self-censorship” in the mainstream media.
In the index released on Wednesday, India was ranked just three places above Pakistan and was one notch below violence-torn Palestine. India’s neighbours Bhutan and Nepal were placed at 84th and 100th rank, respectively.
“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,” the report from media watchdog Reporters without Borders said. India was ranked 133 last year.
The report mentioned that journalists were increasingly targets of online smear campaigns and threats.
“Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.”
“No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship.”
The watchdog was also critical of a social media and internet gag in Kashmir and said that in the absence of any “protective mechanism, coverage of sensitive regions continued to be “very difficult”.
Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark took the first four positions in the rankings. The United States was at the 43rd position. Large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa, including dictator-ruled Zimbabwe, performed better than India.
China was 176th among 180 countries and was described as the “world’s leading prison for citizen journalists”. North Korea was at the bottom of the index.