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French media watchdog lists Modi as ‘predator of press freedom’, govt rubbishes it as ‘baseless’

International non-profit Reporters Without Borders alleges Modi preys on the press by using a method based on national populism and disinformation.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been named on a list of 37 heads of state or government accused of being “predators of press freedom” by French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF).

The list includes Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Myanmar’s coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Each of these predators has their own style. Some impose a reign of terror by issuing irrational and paranoid orders. Others adopt a carefully constructed strategy based on draconian laws,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Kanchan Gupta, senior advisor in the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, rubbished the report, calling it “fact-free” and “baseless”.

“A report is framed on the basis of facts and figures. A fact-free, broad-brush labelling of the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy as a ‘tyrant’ and baselessly accusing him of ‘divisive disinformation’, is at best an ill-informed opinion beneath contempt,” he told ThePrint when reached for comment.

“…at worst, it’s a malicious and malevolent targeted attack not only on the Prime Minister of India but also on the country’s established political process as well as its sovereign laws. Media freedom is hale and hearty in India and does not require any intervention by an agenda-driven foreign NGO,” Gupta added.

Founded in 1985 in Paris, RSF focuses on defending media freedom and has been compiling a list of ‘predators’ since 2001.

The 2021 list, released Monday, is the first to be published since 2016. Seven of the world leaders on the list have been a part of it since 2001 — Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for example.

For the first time, the list includes two women — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina.

While Lam has been identified as a “puppet of Chinese President Xi Jinping” who “openly supports his predatory policies towards the media”, Hasina’s “predatory exploits include the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted”.

Also read: Highlight positives of India’s press freedom to counter Western critics, panel tells Modi govt

‘Modi used Gujarat as a lab’

Noting that India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, the RSF report said Modi’s method is based on national populism and disinformation.

It claims he used Gujarat as a “laboratory” for news and information control methods, when he served as chief minister of the state in 2001, and deployed these methods after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014.

“His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires,” RSF said, adding that PM Modi has an army of online trolls known as “yodhas” who wage hate campaigns on social media.

The report also named late journalist Gauri Lankesh as an example of the “sickulars” and “presstitutes” targeted by online “hate campaigns”. Lankesh was killed outside her home in Bengaluru in September 2017.

“As a rule, any journalists or media outlets that question the prime minister’s national-populist ideology are quickly branded as ‘sickular’ — a portmanteau of ‘sick’ and ‘secular’ — and are targeted by ‘bakht’ (sic), Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them,” RSF said.

Also read: Muslim women ‘on sale’ — website targets journalists, activists, taken down after outrage


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