Prime Minister Narendra Modi has featured among 37 heads of states in the world, named as “predators of press freedom”, in a list prepared by international media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF). His name is among leaders such Myanmar’s army general Min Aung Hlaing, Brazil’s Jair Bolsoanaro, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and others.
Notably, Modi has featured in RSF’s list ever since he took office as prime minister in 2014. The RSF notes that Modi’s “leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires”. India is ranked 142nd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
Headquartered in France, RSF is an international non-profit and non-government organisation that aims to safeguard the right to freedom of information.
According to the media watchdog, while the list has been brought out after a gap of five years, a few of the “predators of press freedom” have been operating for more than two decades while others have just joined the “blacklist”, The Telegraph reported.
“All are heads of state or government 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,” the RSF said.
“After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014,” Reporters Sans Frontières said in its entry about Modi.
It added that a large section of “journalists are aware that they run the risk of dismissal if they criticise the government”, thus preventing them from reporting the reality. Not only, by “visibly ingratiating himself with owners of leading media outlets”, Modi has made sure that “his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation” receive prominent coverage.
The report also highlighted use of sedition law terming it as a “judicial arsenal” which the Modi-led government has been using as a major threat against press freedom.
This judicial arsenal is compounded by “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 added.
Referring to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017, the RSF stated that she is “the victim of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi”.
Citing examples of journalists Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt, who “were subjected to calls for them to be gang-raped and their personal data was posted online to facilitate attacks”, the RSF report said that women journalists bear the brunt of the more virulent attacks.
It is for the first time that two women heads of state – Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam have also been identified as ‘predators’ in the list. An European leader Hungary’s Viktor Orban, has also made it to the list for the first time.