Recently, there was a news item in the Times of India that ‘India slips in the global ranking for freedom of the press’. India has been ranked at the 140th position, with the countries that are regarded as the ‘partly-free media’ in the ranking list of Press Freedom Index. As a student of journalism, there was a natural curiosity in me to find out more about this news and reasons behind this slippage in ranking.
In our country, media is said to enjoy the same freedom of speech and expression that any other citizen of our country does (as mentioned in the Article 19 (1) (a) of our constitution). During the time of independence, the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru regarded press as ‘the watchdog of democracy’. And even today, press has been given the title of the fourth pillar of democracy. It raises voice of the people when it goes unheard by the three estates of the country i.e. the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. While expressing views, shaping public opinions and revealing the truth, press of our country is always regarded as fully free. However, I was surprised to know that by the international standards, the Indian press enjoys partial freedom only.
The said report was compiled and published by a Paris based organization “Reporters Without Borders”, based on the organisation’s assessment of countries and press freedom records. The organization says that the press freedom has fallen to its lowest levels over the last decade around the world. India has slipped down in the rankings due to the increased interference in content by media owners in the run up to the 2014 general elections. This interference has led to the dismissal of the key editorial staff in several instances just before the commencement of the elections. Leading news channel owners have pressurized, warned and in some cases terminated the reporters who had their independent views about certain political parties and party leaders. They aren’t even allowed to express their views through social networking sites.
This year in the month of January, Safai festival took place in Uttar Pradesh. Two leading news channels i.e. Times Now and IndiaTV were blacked out in Uttar Pradesh for some time for questioning the spendthrift government about the reasons of spending so much on the festival when the victims of Muzaffarnagar riots were suffering hard. In February, Lok Sabha channel was blacked out during the proceedings of the passing of the Telangana Bill. And yet, we proudly claim that our press is free! There have been great influences of the people who own the share in the channel on the content that is being broadcasted.
The country which has topped the list in this index is Finland. It has the freest press in the world. Its broadcasting sector is dynamic. Finland has given its every citizen a right to print and publish material and made the access to the broadband a legal right. Government is taking major steps to safeguard the role of journalism and its expansion in different media. The point to be noted here is that Finland is on the top of the list with the countries which are the most clean and transparent in their operations. It has been ranked at number three by the Transparency International’s 2013 report. It may be noted that India is ranked at 94th position in the same report.
It is obvious that the country with the freest press and a supportive government makes the flow of information smooth for the people. It generates faith among people that the government has nothing to hide and journalists are never pressurized over having their views about any leader or issue. India needs to work a lot on developing such faith among people. The transparency in the functioning of the government in particular and the society in general has a direct bearing on the freedom of press. Press has enormous power to transform the public opinion but in the greed of creating sensationalism, this power is getting misused. When journalists raise their voices they are threatened and channels are blacked out by the authorities.
Free flow of information is very important for the development and growth of any democratic country. Democracy is all about giving the citizens this freedom of expressing and criticizing, and if freedom of press continues to be trampled against power, our country will never be able to earn the faith of people which is very important for the growth of the country. It is high time that the central government as well as state governments take a serious view about the poor state of press by international standards and take necessary steps to make it fully free.
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