Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

India press freedom score falls, says Reporters sans Frontieres


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Freedom of Expression; Freedom of Press; World Press Freedom Index

Mains level: Issues with Freedom of Expression in India;

Why in the news?

India’s score in the World Press Freedom Index fell over the last year, from 36.62 to 31.28, according to Reporters Without Borders. In South Asia, India finds itself ranked at 159th, while its neighbor Pakistan stands marginally higher at 152.

Key Highlights of the Report:

  • Deterioration Since 2014: Press freedom in India has significantly deteriorated since 2014.
  • Government vs Media Nexus: The government is criticized for maintaining a close relationship with big media families, leading to a lack of independence and critical journalism being labeled as “anti-national and anti-India“.
  • Self-Censorship: Fear of political backlash has forced journalists to censor themselves, as Modi’s supporters aggressively target critical reporting of the government.
  • Corporatization of Media: There’s an increasing trend of wealthy businessmen close to Modi owning a majority of mainstream media outlets, which undermines media independence and diversity.
  • BBC Raids: Recent raids on the BBC offices in India have drawn international criticism and contributed to India’s declining press freedom ranking.
  • Comparative Analysis: While India’s press freedom declines, neighboring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka have improved, although they still lag behind global leaders in press freedom rankings.

India’s Initiative of “Index Monitoring Cell”:

  • Purpose of the Cell: The Index Monitoring Cell has been set up to work on improving India’s press freedom ranking. It will consist of representatives from various government agencies and credible journalists suggested by the Press Council of India.
  • Ranking Parameters: The cell will engage with agencies publishing the World Press Freedom Index, like Reporters Without Borders, for a better understanding of the parameters and methodology used for the rankings. This will help formulate an action plan to address the issues identified.
  • Coordination with State Governments: The cell will coordinate with state governments to appoint nodal officers who can provide regular updates on the state of press freedom and any issues faced by journalists at the local level.
  • Engagement with Stakeholders: This aims to improve communication and visibility of steps taken to support press freedom and address concerns raised by global media watchdogs.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Setting up proper reporting mechanisms is crucial to ensure that the data and information provided to ranking agencies are up-to-date and accurate. This will help in portraying a clearer picture of the press freedom landscape in India.

Conclusion: India needs to enact and strengthen laws to protect the freedom of the Press and ensure journalists’ safety. This includes legislation to prevent harassment, attacks, and threats against journalists, as well as provisions for swift and effective legal recourse in cases of censorship or intimidation.

Mains PYQ 

Q What do understand by the concept “freedom of speech and expression”? Does it cover hate speech also? Why do the films in India stand on a slightly different plane from other forms of expression? Discuss. (UPSC IAS/2014)

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