Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
India’s media continue to be vigorous and are by far the freest in South Asia, although journalists face a number of constraints. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of expression, and while there are some legal limitations, these rights are generally upheld. In recent years, the government has occasionally used its power under the Official Secrets Act to censor security-related articles or prosecute members of the press, but no cases were reported during 2007. State and national governments have also on occasion used other security laws, contempt of court charges, and criminal defamation legislation to curb the media and other critical voices. In 2006, parliament had passed an amendment to the Contempt of Courts Act that introduced truth as a defense. However, in a troubling test case that was condemned by local professional groups, in September 2007, a New Delhi court sentenced the publisher of the Mid-Day newspaper, as well as two editors and a cartoonist, to four-month prison terms for contempt of court after they ran an article accusing a former senior judge of issuing a ruling that benefited his son; the four were eventually freed pending an appeal. The Press Council of India, an independent body composed of journalists, publishers, and politicians, serves as a self-regulatory mechanism for the print media through its investigations of complaints of misconduct or irresponsible reporting. No similar body exists for the broadcast media, which have become known for undercover sting operations conducted for investigative reports. A broadcasting services regulation bill, which was introduced in 2006 and reintroduced in 2007, could give the government greater power over the media, restrict media cross-ownership, and introduce greater content regulation for news channels—all proposals that have been opposed by broadcasters themselves as well as by journalists’ groups.
Intimidation of journalists by a variety of actors continues; on a number of occasions during 2007, reporters were attacked or detained by police or others while attempting to cover the news, and some were abducted or threatened by right-wing groups, insurgents, local-level officials, or criminals. Offices were also targeted during the year. Two employees of the Tamil newspaper Dinakaran were killed in a May arson attack on the paper’s Madurai office by supporters of one of the sons of the state’s chief minister, and in August, the Mumbai office of the influential national magazine Outlook was attacked by members of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist group.
Members of the press are particularly vulnerable in rural areas and insurgency-racked states such as Chhattisgarh, Kashmir, Assam, and Manipur. Conditions in Manipur worsened in 2007, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as journalists faced threats from competing militant groups as well as a new state government directive banning the publication of any statements made by “unlawful organizations.” At least twice during the year, media outlets responded to pressure by ceasing operations temporarily, thus depriving the public of news. In neighboring Assam, Afrida Hussain, a reporter for Northeast Television (NETV), was assaulted in March by hospital security guards in Guwahati when she attempted to interview a group of hospitalized women. NETV, the only private satellite channel in northeast India, had also faced threats in January from the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militant group and received criticism of its reports from official quarters. Conditions are particularly difficult in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the fact that militants routinely issue death threats against local media personnel has led to significant levels of self-censorship. In March 2007, cable operators across the region suspended broadcasts of four popular English-language entertainment channels whose programming militants denounced as obscene. Pressure to self-censor has also been reported at smaller media outlets that rely on state government advertising for the majority of their revenue. Photojournalist Maqbool Sahil has been detained since September 2004 under the Public Safety Act despite repeated high court decisions calling for his release.
Most print media, particularly the national and English-language press, are privately owned, provide diverse coverage, and frequently scrutinize the government. The broadcast media are predominantly in private hands, but the state retains a monopoly on AM radio broadcasting, and private FM radio stations are not allowed to broadcast news content. In November 2006, the government announced a new policy designed to legitimize community radio and enable nonprofit groups and others to apply for station licenses; this improvement has fostered a modest increase in the growth of community radio stations, leading to a greater diversity of voices and topics covered. Doordarshan, the state-controlled television station, has been accused of manipulating the news to favor the government, and some private satellite television channels also provide slanted coverage that reflects the political affiliation of their owners, according to the U.S. State Department. Foreign media are allowed to operate freely. The internet, accessed by 3.5 percent of the population in 2007, remains unrestricted, although some states have proposed legislation that would require the registration of customers at internet cafés, and the government retains the right to censor the internet, particularly on the grounds of morality or national security.