RSF names PM Modi among 37 ‘predators of press freedom’ along with Kim Jong-un and Imran Khan
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on the list of 37 heads of state or government that the global body Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has identified as “predators of press freedom”. The entry against Modi notes how his ‘close ties to billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires’ helped him spread his nationalist-populist ideology through continued coverage of his ‘extremely divisive and derogatory’ speeches. .
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. RSF is the world’s largest NGO specializing in the defense of media freedom, considered a fundamental human right to be informed and to inform others.
Modi joins Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, along with 32 others who ‘tramplify freedom of the press’ by creating a censorship apparatus, by arbitrarily imprisoning journalists or inciting violence against them when they have no blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly instigated the murder of journalists.
This is the first time since 2016 that RSF has published such a list. Seventeen of the heads identified as “predators” are new entrants. Thirteen of the 37 on the list hail from the Asia-Pacific region.
Seven of the world leaders on the list have been on it since it was first published in 2001 and include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iranian Ali Khamenei, Russian Vladimir Putin and Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko. The latter has become a “predator” since the dramatic hijacking of a plane to capture critic and journalist Roman Protasevich.
Sheikh Hasina from Bangladesh and Carrie Lam from Hong Kong are the two women identified as “predatory”.
For each of the predators, RSF compiled a file identifying their “predatory method”, their press release notes.
The list also highlights how each “predator” censors and persecutes journalists, as well as their “preferred targets” – the types of journalists and media outlets they pursue, as well as quotes from speeches or interviews in which they “justify” their predatory behavior.
Modi’s entry notes that he has been a “predator since taking office” on May 26, 2014 and lists his “predatory methods” as “national populism and misinformation”. Its favorite targets, says RSF, are “sickulars” and “presstitudes”. The former is a word that the Hindu right and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party use to criticize views that are “secular” – a word that also appears in the preamble of India’s constitution – and which are not ostensibly of right. The latter is an amalgamation of ‘press’ and ‘prostitute’ – intended to indicate, with the help of misogyny, that the media critical of Modi is sold out.
Here is how RSF describes Modi’s impact on the free press:
Becoming Prime Minister of Gujarat in 2001, he used the western state as a laboratory for the information and information control methods he deployed after being elected Indian Prime Minister in 2014.
Its main weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimize its 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 currying favor with the owners of mainstream media outlets, their journalists know they risk being fired if they criticize the government. On the other hand, the significant coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, allows the media to reach record audience levels.
All that remains is for Modi to neutralize the media and journalists who question his divisive methods. For this, it has a legal arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to the freedom of the press. For example, journalists risk life imprisonment on the extremely vague charge of sedition.
To complete this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls called “yodha” (Hindi word for “warriors”), who carry out horrific hate campaigns on social networks against journalists they do not like. , campaigns that have almost regularly include calls for the assassination of journalists.
The note also points out that the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh was a significant casualty of Hindutva, “the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi”.
He also notes that female journalists like Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt, who have criticized Modi, are receiving the brunt of harsh attacks, including doxxing and calling for gang rapes.
As a general rule, any journalist or media outlet that challenges the Prime Minister’s national-populist ideology is quickly branded “sick” – a portmanteau of “sick” and “secular” – and targeted by the ” bakht,” Modi supporters who are suing. against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them.
Recently, RSF had criticized the “absurd accusations” of “criminal association” brought against Thread, Twitter India and journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair in connection with tweets and reports on an attack on an elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad.