118 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 3,287,590 sq. km.
Languages: Hindi, English
Head of government: Manmohan Singh, since May 2004
India has the world’s largest media and the government in New Delhi does not censor the press, but in some cases local despots do apply pressure to them. Journalists also have to beware of armed groups in the north-east of the country and militants and security forces in Kashmir. Foreign reporters have often to run the gauntlet of a nitpicking administration to obtain visas.
The country that claims the distinction of being the world’s largest democracy provides a legal framework that is largely favourable to press freedom. Indian journalists take pride in their freedom and will defend it robustly in street protests or before the courts. The Constitution is on their side and guarantees free expression in Article 19, but on the condition that it does not conflict with the “sovereignty and integrity of India”. However journalists’ safety is precarious in some states in which press freedom is under threat from politicians, religious groups and criminal gangs.
Islamist attacks on Mumbai were shown live on Indian television. The courts reacted by banning channels from showing some images and statements by the gunmen and the government proposed guidelines for coverage of terror attacks. An anti-terrorist court in March imposed a blackout on the trial of an Islamist group for bombing a train in Mumbai.
The justice system, under pressure from religious groups or corrupt officials, does sometimes abuse the use of charges and detentions against journalists. An editor and two assistants spent ten days in prison for publishing a book condemning violence against the Christian minority in Orissa state in the east. They were charged for violation of Articles 153-A and 295-A of the Indian criminal law by publishing “provocative literature that could upset communal peace and harmony”. An editor in Karnataka state, southern India, B. V. Seetaram, said he feared for his life after he was arrested when a libel suit was brought against him by supporters of the local authorities.
In March, three editors who had recently been arrested by the police jointly condemned growing pressure from “fundamentalists”. “Before arresting anyone, the authorities should check that the law is applicable in the case” said Ravindra Kumar, editor of the daily The Statesman, based in Kolkata, who in February was charged with “offending religious sentiments”. Under pressure from a Muslim organisation, the newspaper was forced to apologise over an article condemning the erosion of freedom to criticise religions.
Three journalists, including an editor, have been murdered since the start of 2008 in the north-eastern states by armed separatist groups or pro-government militia for speaking out against the chaotic situation in these regions. In Chhattisgarh state, central India, where security forces are fighting Maoist guerrillas, local reporters are regularly accused by police of being “Maoists” and by insurgents of being “traitors”.
Security forces battling separatists and facing popular demonstrations in Kashmir sometimes crack down hard on media, who are accused of throwing oil on the flames. The press endured a “black month” in July 2008, when a cameraman was killed, 35 journalists were beaten by security forces, local television stations were censored and press distribution was hampered for several days because of a curfew. Police violence of this kind, chiefly by officers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), is rarely punished. Journalists in Kashmir do not enjoy the same legal protection as their colleagues in the rest of the country.
Criminal gangs are however a threat to investigative journalists throughout the country. A reporter on the Hindustan Times in Bihar state in the north-east was shot dead in November while reporting on drug trafficking in the region.
Foreign journalists are not always welcome in India. Some US, British, French and Swedish reporters have been denied visas because their names appeared on a blacklist. Two Swedish journalists had their visa applications turned down after putting out reports about social problems in India. Some foreign correspondents faced excessive delays when they applied for press visas in the run-up to the 2009 elections.