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)
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India’s vibrant media scene is by far the freest in South Asia, although journalists, particularly those in rural areas and certain conflict-racked states, face a number of challenges, including an increase in legal actions and violence during 2008. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, and while there are some legal limitations, these rights are generally upheld. The 1923 Official Secrets Act gives authorities the right to censor security-related articles or prosecute members of the press, but no such cases were reported during the year. On occasion, state and national authorities also use other security laws, contempt of court charges, and criminal defamation statutes to curb the media and other critical voices. For example, B. V. Seetaram, chief editor of Chitra Publications, was arrested on defamation charges in Karnataka in January, while the Ahmedabad police commissioner brought charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy against the local editor and a reporter from the Times of India in June. Hate-speech laws have also been used against the press. Three journalists from the Andhra Jyoti, a Hyderabad daily, were arrested in June under a law prohibiting insults to lower castes; there was allegedly little evidence of insult in the article in question, and the three were released on bail.
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 as part of 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 and journalists’ groups. There was no further action on the proposed broadcasting bill in 2008. Media coverage of the November Mumbai terrorist attacks, especially television coverage, drew criticism on many fronts. Commentary and interviews were viewed by many as jingoistic and inflammatory. Some felt that the live television coverage actually hindered the work of the security forces. Most damning were reports that the terrorists’ handlers monitored the live coverage and relayed the latest developments to them by telephone. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry began exploring possible amendments to the Programme Code and the Cable Television Act with the aim of increasing government regulation of television coverage during times of crisis. Proposals for the vetting and preapproval of television feeds by authorized officials raised censorship fears among some local media watchdogs.
Physical intimidation of journalists by a variety of actors worsened in 2008. At least 4 journalists were killed during the year as a result of their work, and a number of others were attacked, threatened, abducted, or detained by police, right-wing groups, insurgents, local officials, or criminals. Vikas Ranjan, a correspondent for the Hindustan daily who frequently covered crime and corruption issues, was killed by unknown assailants in Bihar in November. Media offices were also targeted during the year. In January, a television station in Gujarat was ransacked by Hindu fundamentalists after it short-listed an artist known for controversial paintings of Hindu deities for a national service award. Dalit rights activists set fire to the offices of Andhra Jyoti in May, while supporters of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebel group destroyed hundreds of copies of the Hindu newspaper in October, both allegedly because of negative coverage.
Members of the press are particularly vulnerable in rural areas and insurgency-racked states such as Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, and Manipur. In Assam, two journalists were killed during the year: Mohammed Muslimuddin, a reporter for the daily Asomiya Pratidin, was fatally attacked near his home in April, reportedly for his work covering drug crimes, while Jagajit Saikia, a correspondent for Amar Asom, was murdered outside the paper’s offices in November. No arrestswere made in either case. Also in November, Konsam Rishikanta, an editor with the Imphal Free Press, was found murdered in Imphal, Manipur’s capital. Reporters in these states faced pressure from both the government and insurgents, and those accused of Maoist or insurgent sympathies were detained by the authorities.
Conditions are particularly difficult in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which saw repeated standoffs between protesters and security forces in 2008. Two journalists were killed in crossfire while trying to cover the news, while numerous others were beaten or detained despite carrying passes that enabled them to work during curfews, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Broadcasts were also blocked, and the intermittent curfews prevented newspapers from being distributed. SMS (text messaging) was blocked on the grounds that it was being used to incite communal tension. Local media face sustained threats from militants regarding coverage of certain issues, and pressure to self-censor has also been reported at smaller media outlets that rely on state government advertising for the majority of their revenue. During the year, the state government sent out an advisory that warned media outlets against “publication of certain objectionable material” and explicitly stated that failure to comply would lead to the withdrawal of official advertising. However, in a positive step, the state human rights commission in October directed the state administration to pay roughly US$1,500 in compensation to Naseer Ahmad Khora, a journalist and activist who had been attacked and tortured in 2007.
Most print outlets, particularly in 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. Following a new policy announced in 2006, there has been a modest increase in 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 provide slanted coverage that reflects the political affiliation of their owners, according to the U.S. State Department. Restrictions on the operations of foreign news media outlets were eased in September, when a cabinet decision allowed foreign news magazines to print country-specific editions of their publications, provided they did so in collaboration with a local partner and did not hold more than a 26 percent stake in the joint venture.The internet, accessed by 7.1 percent of the population in 2008, remains largely unrestricted, although some states have proposed legislation that would require the registration of customers at internet cafes. The government retains the right to censor the internet, particularly on the grounds of morality or national security. In August 2008, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based internet company Google was ordered to reveal the identity of a blogger who posted comments that were critical of Gremach, a construction company.