Press freedom has declined in India; media curbs continue: US state department | India News – Times of India

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NEW DELHI: Press in India is “generally free” but media outlets and individuals critical of the government continue to “face harassment” through online trolling and sedition laws slapped against them, a US report said on Tuesday.
In its ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’, the US Department of State pointed out several significant human rights issues in India, including restrictions on freedom of expression and the press.
Media curbs
The report noted that while the government generally respected freedom of media, there were instances where the government or actors considered close to it pressured or harassed media outlets critical of those in power, including through online trolling.
The report said that sedition and criminal defamation laws in India were sometimes used to prosecute citizens who criticised government officials or state policies.
“In certain cases, local authorities arrested or filed cases against individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views,” said the human rights report.
To highlight this, the report quoted several instances such as the contempt of court case against senior advocate Prashant Bhushan to the West Bengal government blocking Calcutta News broadcast in May 2020.
The US State Department report added there have been accusations of “political interference” in the state-owned broadcasters.
“The Committee to Protect Journalists reported at least 79 journalists had been killed between 1992 and 2020. According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, at least four journalists were killed in connection with their work as of December,” said the report.
Online media
The report noted that independent media actively expressed a wide variety of views in the digital sphere.
However, the report said that press freedom witnessed a decline over the last year, citing observations from several journalists.
“There were several reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials, at both the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement,” said the report.
Individuals continued to be charged with posting offensive or derogatory material on social media, it said.
Internet freedom
The report also said that the Indian government is asking for more user data from internet companies and the frequency of internet shutdowns has also been on the rise.
The report noted that there were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet and censorship of online content.
“The government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications,” it said.
Citing data from an NGO Freedom Law Center, the report said that the Centre and state governments in India shut down internet in different locations as many as 106 times in 2019 and 76 times as of December 21, 2020.
“The Centre reported the longest shutdown occurred between August 4, 2019, and March 4 in Jammu and Kashmir,” said the report.
According to Facebook’s transparency report, the government made 49,382 data requests in 2019, a 32 per cent increase from 2018, while Google reported a 69 per cent increase in government requests for user data in its 2019 Transparency Report, receiving 19,438 disclosure requests.
Twitter’s Transparency Report indicated 1,263 account information requests from the government in 2019, a 63 per cent increase from 2018.

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