FREEDOM OF PRESS IN DEMOCRACY
THIS YEAR’S WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY THEME “INFORMATION AS A PUBLIC GOOD” SERVES AS A CALL TO ADVANCE TRANSPARENCY AND EMPOWERMENT WHILE LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND.
By: Sapna Srivastava
The role of press in sharing factual information is essential to all members of society, from exposing corruption, debunking disinformation or alerting to occurrences of public importance. However, the press is not always allowed to play its role of a watchdog of the people and as an unbiased medium to provide information for public good. Therefore, the Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which is a target of restraint and suppression across the globe.
BUSINESS OF JOURNALISM IN INDIA
In India, the travesty is that we have a press whose freedom of speech is diminishing day by day. On one end, the print media is owned and controlled by corporate conglomerates and TV channels are besotted with TRPs. Then there are digital platforms that have made it easier to misuse one’s right to freedom of expression.
On the other end, there has been a steep rise in the attacks on press and weakening in regulations protecting freedom of expression. There have been media freedom violations, including restrictions on access to information and online vehemence in the form of verbal attacks and threats of physical violence.
Conventionally, the four estates or pillars of democracy have been the Legislative, Executive, Judiciary and the Press. There is now a fifth estate that is the Social Media comprising bloggers and journalists of non-mainstream media outlets.
INDIA’S PRESS FREEDOM RANKING
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a French NGO, has placed India at 142nd rank out of 180 countries. In 2016, India’s rank was 133 which dropped to 136 in 2017 and has steadily climbed down to 142 in 2020.
The lack of safety for journalists, offline and online attacks, harassment by the authorities and religious outfits with impunity and self- censorship by many journalists for fear of nationalist radicals are some of the reasons for India’s dismal performance.
Fact-based journalism is an essential part of information as a public good. In India urgent measures are required to counter the forces that are weakening independent news media. We need to ponder on solutions to bolster media viability, greater transparency, safety of journalists and support for independent media.