Free Press is slowly becoming a dinosaur in countries like war-ravaged Syria, Yemen, and Iraq and in countries like Pakistan that are witnessing an Islamist resurgence.
Indians may claim that they are not on the same page as Pakistan when it comes to media freedom; they may love to assert that free press is as much an article of faith as fundamental right under their constitution. But a recent Reuters report from New Delhi, and India's ranking at 138th place in the World Press Freedom Index released by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (ahead of the World Press Freedom Day on May 5), present a different picture. Reuters' dispatch speaks of journalists facing 'intimidation' and from being 'stopped' from writing anything critical of Prime Minister Modi's government.
The resignation of Harish Khare, editor-in-chief of The Tribune, a leading English daily, was front-page news recently. He is a veteran journalist and highly respected political commentator. And a known trenchant critic of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Tribune is more than a century-old- daily, which started from Lahore, the present-day cultural capital of Pakistan. The daily is managed by a non-profit trust.
Khare offers an interesting take. "It (the Modi government) will use every resource in its command to pressurise, manipulate, misguide media or any other voice which seeks to be independent of the government," he says and adds that restrictions on reporting are "likely to intensify heading into the election."
India will go to vote in early 2019.
Khare told Reuters that his relations with the Tribune's controlling trust nosedived after the newspaper "exposed" flaws in Aadhaar, Modi's flagship programme for creating a national data base with the biometrics of every citizen.
Privacy Ayatollahs consider Aadhar as Modi's version of Big brother's surveillance of everything everyone does across the large country. And have challenged its validity in the apex court.
The Tribune trust rejected Khare's accusations. "To the contrary, the Tribune Trust gave an unprecedented award of 50,000 rupees ($765) to the correspondent (who wrote the story) in recognition of the work," Officiating Editor K.V. Prasad was quoted as saying in an e-mail to Reuters. His punchline was: "The editor-in-chief's (Khare) departure came close to the end of the tenure (contract period)."
These claims and denials notwithstanding, India has no reason to sport a smile. One year ago, it was at 136th position on the media-freedom index. Now it has slipped to 138th position. A big plus for India are in-built checks and balances, its democracy offers.
Is Pakistan's case different?
Well, it is. Here in the land founded by a U.K.-educated constitutionalist seven decades ago, the military is calling the shots. The judiciary is kowtowing the army. A powerful civilian prime minister has been disqualified from Parliament for daring to take on the Khakis.
The result is that Pakistani media, which found its voice under a military dictator, General Perevez Musharraf (his stint from 1999 to 2008 saw a mushroom growth of TV channels and daily papers), is running for cover from attacks targeted by both state and non-state actors, says Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). And the country finds itself ranked 139 out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
"The traditional dynamism of Pakistani press is still under the double pressure of the state on one hand, and several armed groups, especially religious extremists, on the other," RSF told The Express Tribune (a Karachi daily published in collaboration with the New York Times) in an exclusive statement. Nearly 120 journalists had been killed in Pakistan since 2002.
The country-specific analysis, which accompanied the publication of the annual listing, presents a disturbing picture.
Just two quotes will suffice.