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

Panel set up to improve India’s falling press freedom recommends that to file FIRs against journalists, the Press Council’s consent be taken.

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New Delhi: A panel set up by the Narendra Modi government last year to improve India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has recommended drafting a communication strategy to highlight the positive aspects and publicise reforms to enhance press freedom in the country.

The panel has also said the government must engage with international media ranking agencies.

It added that the methodology adopted by Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders or RSF) to measure press freedom lacks transparency, and also identified a “Western bias” and “selection of parameters” as key concerns with the RSF’s index.

The 15-member Index Monitoring Cell — chaired by the principal director general of the Press Information Bureau — has made the recommendations in a report circulated among members at the end of December for their comments. While the email sent to the members of the panel mentions it is a draft report, the cover page of the report does not say so. ThePrint has accessed a copy of the report.

ThePrint reached the I&B ministry through email seeking clarification on the exact status of the report, but the ministry declined to comment.


Also read: ‘Assault on press freedom’ — Editors Guild seeks MHA action against attack on journalists


Panel’s recommendations

The panel recommended that the government should pursue decriminalising the offence of defamation in the Indian Penal Code, and carry out a review of various archaic and colonial laws impacting press freedom in India.

It also suggested that legal amendments be made so as to make the consent of the Press Council of India mandatory for filing an FIR against a journalist for her/his publication of a news article, cartoon, opinion or photograph. It said the PCI should convey its decision to the authority within two weeks.

The report also called for a time-bound investigation and filing of charge sheets by police authorities to be made mandatory in matters related to journalistic expression.

The panel also recommended that the I&B ministry should draft a three-pronged strategy in connection with the Press Freedom Index. This includes engagement with industry representatives and media associations, a communication plan at the national and global level for publicising the various “positive aspects” related to the constitutional and legal provisions related to press freedom in India, and publicising reform actions taken towards enhancing press freedom in India.

It added that the government should establish regular engagement with international media ranking agencies to further understand the various aspects related to methodology of the Press Freedom Index, “present the correct factual position of the status of press freedom in India and convey, to the organisation, the unique  socio-cultural complexities of India and the national security imperative in light of  internal and external threats”.

The panel also reiterated an old demand of the PCI — to form a media council to cover television and digital media along with the print media.

It proposed a few measures for the financial security of journalists, such as a draft ‘Journalists Welfare Fund Act’ and enacting a single legislation/scheme for the welfare of journalists, as well as providing those working in life-threatening situations with bullet-proof identifiable jackets, helmets, and insurance schemes.


Also read: Caravan editor wants UK and Canada’s vigilance on India’s press freedom after London spat


India’s press freedom under spotlight

As first reported by ThePrint last year, the Index Monitoring Cell was set up by the government to look at ways to improve India’s press freedom ranking, which has been slipping in the last few years. This was part of the Modi government’s efforts to improve the country’s rankings on various global indicators across sectors.

The Paris-based RSF has ranked India 142nd among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index 2020.

The panel held four meetings online, even as several sub-groups were created to work on the issues raised during the discussions.

In September 2020, India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf met RSF secretary general Christophe Deloir to discuss press freedom.

Earlier this month, US-based Freedom House also downgraded India’s ranking on its freedom index and classified it as a ‘partly free’ country, to which the Government of India responded by saying the report is “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”.

The report by the Index Monitoring Cell has a dissenting note submitted by veteran journalist P. Sainath, a member of the panel, comprising a series of critical observations. In his note, Sainath has said that the report falls far short of an important mandate of the panel — to review and discuss ways to improve media freedom in India.

It is not clear whether the government has accepted this as the final report. Sources in the government said there has been no progress on it in the last two months, and it could not be ascertained if it was a draft that would be revised to incorporate the comments from the members, including Sainath.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)


Also read: Indian media controlled by a few, a risk to press freedom and pluralism: Study


 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Sans Frontière, Freedom House are all basically do gooders. For instance a study based on information from 36 consultants analysed by 126 analysts can be very objective provided the selection of the consultants is fair.
    In as much as the contacts into the foreign based organizations is limited to well net worked class, the possibility of influence of the Indian contributor to the western press cannot be overlooked.
    India bashing was one way to get into the western press and for good reason given the background and connections of the contributors,,but now that there is push back it is not liked the subjective opinions still get sold.

  2. A person who believes everything he hears has an empty mind. Beware of half truth you may have gotten hold of the wrong half.
    Issues of indigenous people, racism, illegal immigrants, protest, riots etc… exist in all Nations, more so in Western countries.
    We should be aware that in the WEST, there sure is a propensity in a large section of the media to show developing Nations, especially India, in poor light – with some truths, some half-truths and some lies. Media and private surveys are never the last word.
    India is a diverse country where historically it has been recorded that most battles and wars (from the times of the epics, Alexander and after) have been lost because of a traitor in the ranks. Yet, in a diverse Nation as India the media freely discuss LAC, LOC, all defence matters, inside information of Governance et al, attributing the same most of the time to “sources”. Who or what are these “sources”, only the media knows. They are not obliged to reveal these “sources”. How free is free? How responsible is the traditional media?
    In such a circumstance with so much of unfettered freedom, if questions are asked (AS IS BEING DONE IN ALL DEMOCRATIC NATIONS, including blocking the social media account of a democratically elected President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces) of the social media platforms, why are some crying foul?
    Tailpiece: In any case when we have publications like The Print here in India, why do we have to look at Western Media and reports to know where we are. Right?

  3. Our media and liberals spread negativity about India and hinduism abroad, first that attitude needs to change

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