The 2016 'World Press Freedom Index' released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is led by Finland, which retained its top spot for the sixth consecutive year, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. India ranks an abysmally low at 133 among 180 countries in the latest report.
India jumped three spots from the 136th position it had in 2015. Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematized by various religious groups that are quick to take offense, the report said.
At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government, it said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists, the report said.
Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials, it alleged, without substantiating what it refers to.
Among India's neighbouring countries, Pakistan ranks 147, Sri Lanka (141), Afghanistan (120), Bangladesh (144), Nepal (105) and Bhutan (94). China is ranked 176. The United States is ranked 44th and Russia is placed at the 148th place. The report shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.
The many reasons for this decline in freedom of information include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland and security situations that have become more and more fraught in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen, the report said.
RSF rued that the survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom and from large-scale propaganda machines.
Throughout the world, oligarchs are buying up media outlets and are exercising pressure that compounds the pressure already coming from governments, the report said. RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
It is unfortunately clear that many of the world's leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests, he said.
Among the lowest ranked countries were Syria, at 177th place out of 180, just above North Korea (179th) and last placed Eritrea. Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries.