National Press Day 2023: Challenges and Threats to Press Freedom in India

Experiencing a consistent decrease since 2017, India's press freedom ranking declined further to 161 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, as stated by Reporters Without Borders. According to Statista, spanning three decades from 1992 to 2022, about 25 journalists in India were sentenced to prison. Among these instances, 18 journalists were arrested on charges associated with anti-state activities.
National Press Day 2023: Challenges and Threats to Press Freedom in India

New Delhi - National Press Day, observed annually on November 16, is a time to recognize the media's crucial role in upholding democracy. However, the current situation in our country is concerning. Media outlets not only lack diversity, but those striving to go above and beyond are sometimes detained by state forces. The media bears the responsibility of holding those in power accountable, a task that unnerves leaders, leading to attempts to obstruct the press. While some politicians may extend congratulations to the press on this day, they simultaneously manipulate power dynamics to hinder the media's effectiveness.

Many leaders took to social media (formerly Twitter) to wish the press on National Press Day.

M.K. Stalin posted, “On #NationalPressDay, let's reflect on the power and responsibility of the media as true journalism is the watchdog of a vibrant democracy. In times where some succumb to political pressure, let us champion the spirit of unbiased reporting and uphold the core values of a free press.”

Naveen Patnaik said, “Warm greetings to journalists and media persons on #NationalPressDay. A free press is the cornerstone of democracy and gives voice to the people. Let’s pledge to safeguard the independence of the fourth pillar of democracy and empower the people with unbiased information.”

Anurag Thakur, the current Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs, and Minister of Information and Broadcasting, took to social media to say, “Greetings to all the media personnel on #NationalPressDay. A free press forms the bedrock of democracy and is rightly regarded as its fourth pillar. I salute all the journalists who dedicatedly perform their duties in a responsible, unbiased, and professional manner, bringing us news & educating us on a variety of issues.”

While the politicians seem to have all rosy words for the press on the occasion, the remaining 364 days are very different. In our nation, the press is under constant attack from the status quo. This year itself has seen multiple blockings of websites, pages, and raids on journalists.

India’s Dwindling Rank in the Press Freedom Index

Experiencing a continuous decline since 2017, India witnessed a further drop in its press freedom ranking to 161 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, as reported by Reporters Without Borders. With a score of 36.6, India found itself in a category where press freedom was under significant threat in the South Asian region. The 2023 Press Freedom Index evaluated scores based on political, economic, and sociocultural contexts, alongside the legal framework and safety conditions within a country.

Contrastingly, Pakistan demonstrated a more favorable position in terms of media freedom, securing the 150th position in the latest rankings, showcasing an improvement from the previous year's 157th rank. In 2022, India held the same rank at 150.

Similarly, Sri Lanka exhibited noteworthy progress on the index, attaining the 135th position this year, marking an improvement from its 146th ranking in 2022.

India’s Press Freedom Index rank in 2017 was 136 and has been declining ever since. In 2018, the rank was 138, in 2019 it was 140, in 2020 and 2021, the rank was constant at 142. It again started going down in 2021 with the rank being 150.

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Journalists Imprisoned and Attacked Between 1992-2022

According to the website Statista, between 1992 and 2022, a span of three decades, approximately 25 journalists in India found themselves sentenced to prison. Among these cases, the majority, totalling 18 journalists, faced arrests on charges related to anti-state activities. The second-largest group of journalists was incarcerated on charges perceived as retaliatory. As of 2022, India had seven journalists in prison, and one lost their life while engaged in a hazardous assignment.

However, when comparing these figures, 2021 emerged as an exceptionally challenging year for journalism in the world's largest democracy, witnessing reports of seven journalists being imprisoned and five losing their lives. Throughout the period from 1992 to 2022, a total of 61 journalists were killed, and 25 journalists faced imprisonment in the country.

Journalists under UAPA in India – A Free Speech Collective Tracker (2010 till October 2023)

Journalists currently charged under UAPA: 16

Journalists behind bars for UAPA: 07

Journalists on bail on UAPA charges: 08

Journalists charged but not arrested: 01

Journalists acquitted: 01

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Arrested and in police custody

  1. Prabir Purkayastha, Editor, Newsclick – 03.10.2023, New Delhi • In Prison

  2. Aasif Sultan, Reporter, Kashmir Narrator – 27.08.2018; Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir

  3. Fahad Shah, Editor, The Kashmirwalla – 04.02.2022, Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir

  4. Sajjad Gul, trainee reporter, The Kashmir Walla, 05.01.2022, Bandipora district, Jammu and Kashmir

  5. Rupesh Kumar, Independent journalist – 17.07.2022, Ramgarh district, Jharkhand

  6. Irfan Mehraj, Editor, Wande Magazine – 21.03.2023, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir • Under House Arrest

  7. Gautam Navlakha, writer and consulting editor, Newsclick, 30.08.2018 (house arrest), 20.04.2020 (surrendered and jailed), 19.11.2022 (house arrest) • On bail (by order of arrest date)

  8. Seema Azad, editor Dastak, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh – arrested February 2010, granted bail in August 2012; raided on 06.09.2023

  9. Vishwa Vijay, editor Dastak, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh – arrested February 2010, granted bail in August 2012; raided on 06.09.2023

  10. K K Shahina, journalist Outlook, case lodged in December 2010; granted anticipatory bail in July 2011

  11. Siddique Kappan, journalist, Azhimukham, Delhi; arrested on 05.10.2020, granted bail in UAPA case on 09.09.2023 and PMLA case on 23.12.2022

  12. Paojel Chaoba, executive editor, The Frontier Manipur, Imphal – arrested 17.01.2021, granted bail 18.01.2021

  13. Dhiren Sadokpam, editor, The Frontier Manipur Imphal – arrested 17.01.2021, granted bail 18.01.2021-

  14. Shyam Meera Singh, independent journalist, New Delhi, charged on 10.11. 2021; got anticipatory bail on 18.11.2021

  15. Manan Dar, photojournalist, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir; arrested on 22.10.2021; secured bail on 04.01.2023. • Charged but not arrested

  16. Masrat Zahra, photojournalist, Srinagar, case registered on 18.04.2020. • Acquitted

  17. Santosh Yadav, Bastar, Chhattisgarh, Sept 2015; acquitted 02.01.2020 • Discharged

  18. Kamran Yousuf, Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir – arrested in Sept 2017; secured a discharge on 16.03.2022

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Blocking of the Kashmir Walla

On 19th August, the staff of the independent Kashmiri news outlet The Kashmir Walla realized their social media accounts and websites were blocked. The news organization reported that its service provider confirmed a blockade, attributing it to India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the IT Act 2000. Enacted in October 2000, the IT Act addresses cybercrime and electronic commerce. Screenshots shared by social media users and Indian news outlets displayed a message stating: ‘The website has been blocked as per the order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the IT Act, 2000.’ The government has not provided an immediate response. The staff of The Kashmir Walla mentioned that access to the site's account on social media (formerly Twitter) had been restricted "in response to a legal demand," and their Facebook page had been taken down. In 2022, Fahad Shah, the founding editor of the website, was detained by Indian authorities under an "anti-terror" law. He faced charges of "glorifying terrorism" and "spreading fake news" as part of an escalating suppression of press freedom in the Himalayan region.

NewsClick Raid- An Attack on Press Freedom

Prabir Purkayastha, the founder-editor of NewsClick, and the HR head, Amit Chakraborty, are in judicial custody for 30 days until December 1. This decision is related to the case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). On October 3, 2023, a significant event unfolded in Indian journalism, marking a major crackdown by the Indian state. The homes of 46 journalists, including nine women, associated with the news portal NewsClick, were subjected to raids by the Delhi police's special cell, which typically investigates cases related to terrorism. The raids took place in the early hours of that day. Notable figures among the targeted journalists included Bhasha Singh, a lifelong advocate against caste discrimination, known for exposing the prevalence of manual scavenging in India. Subodh Verma, a former editor at the Times of India renowned for his unparalleled work in data analysis, also came under scrutiny. Prabir Purkayastha, NewsClick's founding editor, who is a scholar, scientist, and columnist, was among those targeted. Additionally, prominent television anchors like Abhisar Sharma and Urmilesh found themselves under the scanner. Upon their release, nearly all of the journalists revealed that during their detention, the police consistently inquired about their coverage of various events, including the anti-Muslim Delhi riots, the year-long farmers' agitation, the anti-CAA protests, and even the COVID-19 crisis. The authorities questioned the journalists about their choice to report on these incidents that depicted India in a negative light.

Lack of Caste Diversity in the Media of the Nation

The second iteration of the Oxfam India-Newslaundry Report titled 'Who tells our stories matters: Representation of Marginalized Caste Groups in Indian Media' discloses that approximately 90% of leadership roles in print, television, and digital media are held by individuals from General caste groups. Notably, there is an absence of individuals from Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) backgrounds heading mainstream media outlets. Over a span of 12 months, research highlights the prevalent dominance of General caste groups in leadership roles, by-lines, opinion writing, and content across print, digital, and electronic media. An examination of 14 Hindi and English newspapers revealed a lack of employment of SC/ST journalists to cover caste and tribal issues. The study also found that over half of the anchors from the eight analyzed news channels belonged to upper caste groups, with no representation from the Dalit or Adivasi community hosting debates. None of the 12 magazines scrutinized in the survey had leadership positions filled by individuals from the SC/ST community. Notably, digital media platforms, considered during the research period, exhibited relatively greater progress in the representation of SC and ST communities compared to print and electronic media. Representation in digital media for the SC and ST categories increased by 11% and approximately 3%, respectively, from previously non-existent levels. Despite a slight increase in the OBC category, the General category's representation still stands at around 77%.

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What is National Press Day and Why is it Celebrated?

National Press Day, observed annually on November 16, commemorates the establishment of the Press Council of India in 1966. The Press Council of India designates a theme each year for the celebration of this significant day. The primary aim is to acknowledge and honor the valuable contributions made by the Press Council of India. It is imperative for individuals across the nation to actively participate and celebrate this day with enthusiasm. National Press Day serves as a reminder of the essential role played by a free and independent press in India. The upcoming National Press Day in 2023, falling on Thursday, November 16, provides an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the crucial role the press plays in upholding democracy and the freedom of speech. Understanding the significance of this day is essential, as it pays homage to the press's vital contributions in safeguarding democratic values.

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