After a hiatus of five years, RSF (Reporters Without Borders) has released another list highlighting 37 heads of state/government all over the world, identifying them as ‘Predators of Press Freedom’.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
RSF is the world’s biggest NGO and international non-profit that aims to safeguard media freedom and the right to freedom of information. It advocates for the belief that everyone requires access to the news and information and has consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and the International Organization of the Francophonie.
The Class of 2021
This year’s list has 17 new entrants, making up almost half of the list. Each listee is a head of state that rides roughshod over press freedom by creating obstacles against press media by means of censorship, imprisoning journalists and inciting violence against them. The organization marks the status of press freedom in a country by color-coding and this year’s list has heads of 19 countries marked red (meaning “bad”) and 16 rule countries marked black (meaning “very bad”). 13 of the 37 heads of state in the list hail from the Asia-Pacific region, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Prime Minister of India
Narendra Modi finds himself on the list of press predators as India ranks 142nd out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index released by RSF on the basis of freedom of the press in the nation. India is also coded as a red region by the organization. In their report, RSF has stated that Narendra Modi has been considered a “predator of the press” since taking office on 26 May 2014. “National-Populism and Disinformation” are claimed to be his predatory methods, and his preferred targets are ‘Sickulars’ – a portmanteau of ‘sick’ and ‘secular’ used by ‘Bhakts’ (Ardent right-wingers) to belittle “secular and not right-wing” viewpoints; and ‘Presstitutes’ – an amalgamation of ‘Press’ and ‘Prostitutes’ used to indicate that the female journalists who speak-out against Modi government are sellouts.
The following is an excerpt from the report published by RSF along with the list corresponding to each entry, describing Modi’s influence on free press:
After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014.
His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimize his 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 ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticize the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels.
All that is left for Modi is to neutralize the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods.
For this, he has a judicial arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to press freedom.
For example, journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition.
To round off this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.
Journalists or media outlets that question the prime minister’s national-populist ideology and Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi are targeted by the “bhakts.”
Female journalists also suffer as a consequence of speaking against Modi or any prominent member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In several cases, they have received rape threats and even their personal data was released publicly to attack them.
Long-Standing, New and the Two Female Predators
In this year’s list, Modi finds himself in the company of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution who have been a part of the list since its inception 20 years ago. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko also find themselves on the list. Seven of the 37 leaders on the list have retained their place since the first list. Saudi Arabia’s 35-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is one of the more notable new entrants along with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The 2021 list also consists of female “predators” for the first time ever, both hailing from Asia. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina are the two female entries this year.
More Names on the Way
Not a single entry comes as a surprise after learning about the atrocities the press has to suffer from under their rule. RSF maintains the opinion that the list is non-exhaustive and is working towards publishing a similar list of non-state predators before the end of 2021.