New Delhi: In their recently released list of ‘Predators of Press Freedom’, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) listed 37 heads of state with the lowest press freedom under their jurisdiction, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being listed as well.
RSF’s entry regarding Modi lists that his “close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires” has aided in spreading his nationalist-populist ideologies through continued coverage of his “extremely divisive and derogatory” speeches.
The right to inform and be informed is regarded as a basic human right, and RSF is the world’s largest non-profit organisation that works towards media freedom. In their 2021 World Press Freedom Index, India ranks at 142nd out of 180 countries.
Modi is listed in the ‘Predators of Press Freedom’ alongside Pakistan’s head of state Imran Khan, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing, and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. RSF lists them along with 33 other heads of state who “trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.”
RSF last published this list in 2016, with 17 new entries. There are world leaders listed that have been a part of the list since it was published first in 2001. These include Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam are the only two women on the list.
The list by RSF compiles and mentions various details about each ‘predator’, including the identification of their ‘predatory behaviour’, how they censor and prosecute journalists, the kind of media outlets they go after, and quotations from their speeches justifying their actions.
Modi’s entry states that he has been the Prime Minister of India since 2014, and has been “a predator since taking office”. RSF also mentions the reporters subjected to Modi’s hate, like Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who was gunned down outside her home in 2017 for opposing Hindutva. They also mention Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt who were subjected to calls for them to be gang-raped, along with their personal data being posted online to facilitate attacks.
“Journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. To round off this arsenal, 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,” RSF wrote in their list.