Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Reporters Sans Frontières’ list of ‘predators’ who crush press freedom

Published : July 06, 2021 18:47 IST

A screenshot of the RSF's website announcing the 2021 press predators list. Photo: Courtesy: RSF's website

 

The media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) named Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of the “predators” who crack down ruthlessly on press freedom in its 2021 list, along with 36 other heads of state or governments.

India was ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index and Modi has been on the RSF list ever since he took office in 2014.

Describing Modi’s predatory method as national populism and disinformation, the RSF said: “His 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. 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.”

The RSF pointed out that journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. An army of online trolls known as yodha (warriors), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they do not like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed are part of Modi’s arsenal, said the RSF.

Referring to Gauri Lankesh’s murder, the RSF said any journalist or media outlet that questioned the Prime Minister’s national-populist ideology were quickly branded as “sickular”—a portmanteau of “sick” and “secular”—and targeted by “bhakts,” Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them. Attacks against women journalists were even more virulent, and they were often branded presstitutes.

Others on the RSF list include historic predators such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Syria’s Bashar al Assad, Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko and newcomers such as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Pakistan’s Imran Khan.

Christophe Deloire, the RSF’s secretary-general, said: “Each of these predators has their own style. Some impose a reign of terror by issuing irrational and paranoid orders. Others adopt a carefully constructed strategy based on draconian laws. A major challenge now is for these predators to pay the highest possible price for their oppressive behaviour. We must not let their methods become the new normal.”

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