Centre rejects findings of World Press Freedom Index that ranked India at 150 among 180 countries

Centre rejects findings of World Press Freedom Index that ranked India at 150 among 180 countries

India News

The Centre Thursday informed Parliament that it did not agree with the conclusions drawn by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ in the World Press Freedom Index that ranked India at 150 among 180 nations in its 2022 report.

The report described India as “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media” and noted that “journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence, including police violence, ambushes by political activists and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.”

Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha, said the government does not agree with the conclusions drawn by the organisation for various reasons, including “very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent”.

The report had also mentioned that “supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu far-right, wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking”.

Thakur was responding to separate questions by Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and AAP member Sanjay Singh.

The minister said the government is committed to ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution.

Contrary to the government’s comments on the matter publicly, the Centre has taken a slew of measures in the face of falling rankings across global indices such as the freedom Index.

On May 10, The Indian Express reported how the Ministry of Finance’s economic division in 2020 drafted a strategy to counter the “negative commentary” on India by global think-tanks, indices and the media amidst worries that this could lead to downgrading of sovereign rating to “junk”.

In June 2020, then Principal Economic Advisor in the Ministry of Finance, Sanjeev Sanyal, prepared a presentation — “Subjective Factors that impact India’s Sovereign Ratings: What can we do about it?” — for internal circulation within the government. The 36-page presentation, seen by The Indian Express, noted that 18-26 per cent of a country’s sovereign rating is based on subjective factors such as assessments on governance, political stability, rule of law, corruption, press freedom and so on.

Soon after, the government decided to monitor global indices through the Niti Aayog and create a dashboard for it

In July 2020, Niti Aayog organised a virtual workshop with 47 central ministries and departments, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, in line with a decision by the Centre to monitor India’s performance in select global indices. “The 29 global indices, published by 19 international agencies, are assigned to 18 nodal ministries and departments of the Government of India,” Niti Aayog said in a statement at the time.

Subsequently, in April 2021, the law ministry’s legislative department also wrote to several ministries and departments on April 1 seeking details on the parameters used in the rankings of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, as part of a larger exercise under the aegis of Niti Aayog to monitor parameters used in key global indices including Ease of Doing Business, World Press Freedom, Human Development, Global Innovation, and Global Climate Risk.

In Parliament, Thakur said the Press Council of India (PCI) has been set up under the Press Council Act, 1978 mainly to preserve the freedom of the press and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country. He added the PCI looks into the complaints filed ‘by the Press’ regarding curtailment of press freedom.

In response to Kharge’s question on the arrest of journalists, the minister also said the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain data separately on attacks on journalists.

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