If you’re on Twitter and compulsively follow hashtags, you’d know that it’s World Press Freedom day today. And, if you actually read the accompanying tweets with the trending hashtag of the day, then you may have come across the fact that India was recently ranked 136th on the World Press Freedom Index. According to a report published by Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), India fell three positions from the previous year’s ranking of 133 and is now placed in the “difficult situation” group along with Pakistan (139) and Afghanistan (120).
The RSF report came out on Thursday last week and almost all news websites published it. Except, it seems now that The Times of India and The Economic Times had a change of heart and pulled down the reports they had carried on it. Incidentally, “self-censorship” is among the key themes of the RSF report’s India section. We’d say irony just died, but this is precisely the sort of thing that keeps it alive.
TOI had published its report on April 27, 2017, with the headline: “Threat from Modi’s nationalism” leads to abysmal rank for India in “press freedoms” report.
The headline reflects the findings of the RSF report which stated that “Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media”. This comes right under the subhead: “Threat from Modi’s nationalism”.
The TOI report is no longer available on their website, but we were able to access a cached version.
The Economic Times report has also disappeared from its website. This one was an IANS copy headlined: ‘India slips in media freedom ranking: Report.’ You can read the cached copy here.
We reached out to the TOI web editor to know why they decided to pull down the article and were informed that it was their “editorial prerogative”. We also reached out to the ET web editor but were unable to get a comment on this.
Sources in the organisation, however, informed us that Times Group had a policy of not publishing articles based on reports they cannot independently vet. While this is most admirable, the explanation doesn’t quite add up. TOI recently published an article on black money based on a report by Global Financial Integrity. We highly doubt that TOI was able to authenticate the GFI report – and the TOI article is still sitting pretty on their website.
Also, RSF puts out a detailed methodology on how it compiles the index, which can be scrutinised by TOI reporters and editors should they feel the desire to do so. And if they did indeed find the report dodgy after due diligence, surely they could have informed their readers about RSF’s shortcomings, instead of simply pulling it down without any explanation.
Something about the Modi mention and the rise of Hindutva makes us feel like there’s more to these vanishing reports than meets the proverbial eye. But we’ll leave the detective work for another day. For now, have a happy #WorldPressFreedomDay.