Global media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) has published its press freedom predator’s list that has named Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in its list of 37 heads of states who massively cracked down on press freedom.
Some of the other leaders that Reporters Without Borders, labelled as “press freedom predators” include Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
Modi has been listed in the predators list since 2014 after he assumed office. RSF termed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s predatory method as “national-populism and disinformation”. RSF stated that Modi as Gujarat’s Chief Minister used the state as “a laboratory for the news and information control methods” that he deployed nationally after being elected as Prime Minister in 2014. The media watchdog stated that Modi’s leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. RSF states that he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.
“This insidious strategy works in two ways. On the one hand, by visibly ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticise the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels. All that is left for Modi is to neutralise the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods,” RSF noted.
RSF further stated, “Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.”
The media watchdog also mentions about the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh who was gunned down outside her home in September 2017. The report said Lankesh was victim of Hindutva, “the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi”. It also mentioned the virulent targeting of journalists Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt, who are labelled as “presstitutes” and “were subjected to calls for them to be gang-raped and their personal data was posted online to facilitate attacks”.
The report states 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 “bhakt,” Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them.
The RSF was initiated in 1985 in Paris, it focuses on defending media freedom and has been compiling a list of ‘predators’ since 2001. The 2021 list, was released on Monday, is the first to be published since 2016.
Two women leaders on the list are Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009, and Carrie Lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017. Hasina was listed for adopting a digital security law in 2018 that resulted in more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted. While Lam has been identified as a puppet of China and openly supports predatory policies towards the media, RSF said. Her actions led to the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper on June 24, 2021, and the jailing of its founder Jimmy Lai, a 2020 RSF Press Freedom Laureate.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, a new entrant to list was cited for his alleged repressive methods, including spying, threats, abduction, torture and other acts. The assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi within the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018, was also cited as a reason for including the Saudi prince in the list. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were the new entrants to the list.
European Prime Minister, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, has also been termed a predator of press freedom. Another new entrant to the list is Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro whose “aggressive and crude rhetoric about the media has reached new heights since the start of the pandemic”.
The global press body said that 17 of the 37 leaders have been added for the first time on the list. It has accused these leaders of “creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them”.
At least 19 countries has been categorized in the red colour by the RSF, which it says shows the bad situation for journalism. Sixteen countries have been coded black, which RSF says the situation is “very bad”.
The watchdog’s chief urged world governments to disavow the practices used by the leaders it singled out and to recognize the positive contributions made by an independent press.
It needs to be mentioned here that in the global press freedom index India’s position stands at 142 out of 180 countries which the RSF has termed as “bad” for journalism.