The Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters Without Borders in August 2020, ranked India 141 out of 180 countries. The report highlighted how criminal prosecution, especially sedition, is rampantly used to abuse journalists. It also noted that “at least eight Indian journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2019”. The recent death anniversary of Gauri Lankesh is a chilling reminder of the cost of standing up for truth in India. All these incidents reflect that press in endangered and not completely free. This is a dangerous situation in a democracy as press and media is the fourth pillar and voice for citizens in a democracy.
Significance of freedom of the press for any country:
Strengthening a nation: Free media works towards strengthening the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.
Fundamental to a democratic society: The freedom of the press is fundamental to a democratic society like India for it is helpful in strengthening democracy.
Check on Government and Administrators: An independent press and news-media press acts as an important check on Government and Administrators.
Voice against any social ill or wrong: It is also responsible to raise voice against any social ill or wrong.
Acts for the public: At the national, regional, and local levels, it is the public’s voice, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer, and contemporary chronicler.
Source of information: An unbiased information is important for democracy and its growth. Media help in providing critical information to citizens. E.g data on the economy, health, education, etc. must be correct and accurate without any bias toward government.
Educate: Media is important to educate people on issues that are of utmost importance for the society. E.g Increasing number of rape cases are a threat to society. It is important to report an exact number of cases and help in sensitising society.
Awareness: Media make society aware of their democratic rights and fight the three institutions of democracy.
Watchdog: Media reporting on public affairs and investigations into wrongdoing in the administration of public affairs is a must for a healthy democracy. This includes exposing fraud or corruption cases that personally benefit politicians. This helps citizens to vote the best government defeating the corrupt and dishonest government.
Good Governance: Media plays an important role in the audit of the government policies and spending. An unbiased media is important for transparent reporting.
The growing threat to freedom of the press in India:
India slipped two points on the World Press Freedom Index ranking and India’s ranking reflects growing bitterness towards journalists.
The antagonism towards the media which is openly encouraged by political leaders poses a great threat to democracy.
The government’s pressure in the name of Regulation, the bombardment of fake news, and over the influence of Social media is dangerous for the occupation. The security of journalists is the biggest issue. Killings and Assaults on the Journalists covering sensitive issues are very common.
Section 124a of IPC under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment also endanger the freedom of journalists.
Hate speech targeting journalists shared and amplified on social networks are targeted against journalists using social media.
Corruption-paid news, advertorials, and fake news are a threat to free and unbiased media.
Corporate and political power has overwhelmed large sections of the media, both print and visual, which lead to vested interests and destroy freedom.
It is irony in the biggest democracy of the world that press and media enjoy less freedom. The media should have enough freedom and must be neutral in airing views. If the media is honest and free democracy is bound to function more efficiently. If media is biased, corrupt, and favors only a particular party or few individuals, it can prove to be very dangerous for the smooth functioning of democracy. In the interest of democracy, it is essential that the exchange of ideas takes place in an uninhibited manner where all citizens can access information free of bias and prejudice.