India’s recent ranking at 159th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is a dire warning.

While the nation climbed two spots from the previous year, this marginal improvement is not due to progress but rather a decline in press freedom across other nations. Ironically, Pakistan, a country often criticised for its media restrictions, ranks above us at 152nd.

Beginning in 2014, India’s press freedom has faced unprecedented challenges. The report emphasises an “unofficial state of emergency” for India’s media. Notably, Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group owns over 70 media outlets, reaching 80 crore Indians, showcasing a concerning concentration of media power.

Journalists who dare to challenge the government narrative (both at the Centre and State level) often face severe repercussions. They are subjected to online harassment, threats, physical attacks, criminal prosecutions, and arbitrary arrests. The situation in Kashmir is particularly dire, with reporters frequently harassed by police and paramilitary forces, and some detained for extended periods without formal charges.

Although there have been no journalist deaths reported since January 2024, the atmosphere remains oppressive. This climate of fear and intimidation creates a chilling effect, deterring journalists from pursuing critical stories and investigative reporting.

This decline in press freedom is part of a broader regional trend, with the Asia-Pacific region seeing 26 of 32 countries’ scores fall. However, as the world’s largest democracy, India must set a higher standard. Protecting journalists and ensuring a free and independent press are crucial steps towards ensuring democratic integrity.

A vibrant and free press is the cornerstone of any democracy. The Indian government must act decisively to safeguard press freedom, repealing oppressive measures and fostering an environment where journalism can thrive without fear. Only then can India truly claim to be a beacon of democracy and freedom.