India’s media score dip: watchdog

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By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi, November 7, 2019: The public is losing “confidence” in Indian media, says a human rights watchdog.

An annual report on online freedom by the nonprofit group Freedom House found evidence of “advanced social media surveillance programs” in at least 40 of 65 countries analyzed.

Concerning India’s free and independent media, the Freedom House 2019 said India got a score of 2 out of 4. In 2019, India’s score on press freedom was 3.

The score declined from 3 to 2 because journalists face increasing pressure, harassment, and physical violence.

“The private media are vigorous and diverse, and investigations and scrutiny of politicians are common. Nevertheless, revelations of close relationships between politicians, business executives, and lobbyists, on one hand, and leading media personalities and owners of media outlets, on the other, have dented public confidence in the press,” the report said.

Authorities have used security, defamation, and hate speech laws and contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices in the media, it added.

“Hindu nationalist campaigns aimed at discouraging forms of expression deemed ‘anti-national’ have exacerbated self-censorship, and some media observers have suggested that media reporting has become less ambitious in recent years,” the report said.

Journalists risk harassment, death threats, and physical violence in connection with their work. Such attacks are rarely punished and some have taken place with the complicity or active participation of police.

The advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) identified four incidents in which police attacked journalists in March 2018 alone; each of the incidents involved journalists attempting to cover protest actions. Deadly attacks against journalists are increasing.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), five journalists were killed in India in connection with their work during 2018, four of who were murdered and one of whom was shot upon becoming caught in a firefight between Maoist militants and police.

Four journalists had been killed in connection with their work in 2017, and two in 2016, according to CPJ.

Speaking on global scale, Freedom House said that governments around the world are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens, in a worrisome trend for democracy, AFP reported.

The report said global internet freedom declined for a ninth consecutive year, as authorities in some countries simply cut off internet access as part of their manipulation efforts, while others employed propaganda armies to distort information on social platforms.

“Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“Authoritarians and populists around the globe are exploiting both human nature and computer algorithms to conquer the ballot box, running roughshod over rules designed to ensure free and fair elections.”

Disinformation was the most commonly used tactic to undermine elections, according to the group.

“Populists and far-right leaders have grown adept not only at creating viral disinformation, but also at harnessing networks that disseminate it,” said the watchdog’s 2019 “Freedom on the Net” report.

The researchers said that in 47 out of the 65 countries, individuals were arrested for political, social, or religious speech online and people were subjected to physical violence for their online activities in at least 31 countries.

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