The latest press freedom index released on 26th April 2017 by the press watchdog ‘Reporters without Border’ has brought out new dynamics of the interface of the Press and various independent states all over the world.
The report paints a darker map on press freedom in the contemporary world.
The report says, ‘ attacks on the media have become commonplace…….and we have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies.’
The report is based on a detailed data obtained all across from the world. The questionnaire prepared to obtain the data on press freedom is noteworthy.
The questionnaire focuses on 6 crucial indicators for press freedom.
They are pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure.
Going into the details, the report says that ‘pluralism ’ as measures the degree to which opinions are represented in media.
‘ Media independence’ measures the degree to which the media are able to function independently of sources of business, political, governmental and religious power and influence.
It can be said that, among the six indicators, the three discussed here are extremely crucial as they form the ‘core’ of press freedom anywhere in the world.
By and large, the very first indicator ‘media independence’ has emerged as the biggest challenge to the concept ‘press freedom’.
Noam Chomsky, the famous author of the book, ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political economy of the Mass media’ speaks about the process of manufacturing consent through the alliance of big media houses, government and profit oriented market forces.
In many democracies, these alliances have eroded the basic foundation of democracies.
The present report of press freedom index also highlights this point by saying,’ draconian laws, conflicts of interest, and even the use of physical violence, democratic governments are trampling on a freedom that should, in principle, be one of their leading performance indicators.’
The Indian situation has been a case in point.
Freedom of media has always remained the cornerstone of Indian democracy. The Indian constitution has also provided the necessary legal framework in this regard.
The star of the Indian constitution lies in the article 19 which ensures the ‘right to freedom of expression’. It essentially forms the core of few positive rights by the Indian constitution.
The constitution of India does not specifically mention the freedom of press.
Freedom of the press is implied from the article 19(1)(a) of the constitution.
From this, the existence of a robust and vibrant ‘Fourth Estate of the State’;i.e, the press emerges.
The Indian democracy has been enriched by the role played by the press over the years.
During the freedom struggle also almost all leading leaders were involved with the press more or less.
As a result, the freedom of press got prime position in the Indian constitution.
However, the controversial use of the sedition law for speaking against the government has taken out the shining glory of the Indian democracy over the years.
Moreover, the alliance of the market forces and big media houses has relatively weakened the ‘freedom of the press’ to a considerable extent.
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The Freedom of press Index has also lowered the ranking of India to the position of 136 based on the crucial six indicators mentioned above.
India’s neighbours Bangladesh stands at 146, Pakistan at 139, Sri Lanka at 141, Nepal at 100. The rising global power BRIC member countries like Brazil stands at103; Russia at 148 and China is at alarmingly low 176.
Significantly, the United States stands at a higher position of 43. And, as expected Norway emerges as the champion at position number 1, followed by Sweden at position number 2 and Finland at position number 3.
Despite India being placed a relatively low position is certainly a matter of concern as India has always sustained a robust tradition of ‘freedom of press’.
In this context, the famous observation in Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, made by Patanjali Shastri, Chief Justice is very apt.
It says “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”
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