Media Space Shrinking…

India is on the verge of losing its status as a democracy due to the severely shrinking of space for the media, civil society and the opposition under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the 2020 ‘Democracy Report’ by the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute has observed. Set up in 2014, V-Dem is an independent research institute based at the University of Gothenburg, and has published a data-heavy worldwide democracy report each year since 2017. As the name suggests, these reports look at the status of democracies in countries around the world. The institute calls itself the world’s largest data collection project on democracy. The 2020 report, titled ‘Autocratisation Surges – Resistance Grows’, begins with figures that point to the fact that globally, the spirit of democracy is on the decline. It says that major G20 nations and all regions of the world are now part of the “third wave of autocratisation” which is affecting major economies with sizeable populations, like India, Brazil, the US and Turkey. “India has continued on a path of steep decline, to the extent it has almost lost its status as a democracy,” the preface to the report mentions. Attacks on freedom of expression and media freedom are now affecting 31 countries, compared to 19 two years ago. In addition, academic freedom has registered an average decline of 13% in autocratising countries (one of which is India) over the last 10 years, and the right to peaceful assembly and protest has declined by 14% on average in such countries. The report is unsparing in its reflection of the fact that the slide into autocratisation is a worldwide phenomenon, affecting absolutely all regions. “Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where a greater share of the population is still being affected by democratisation rather than autocratisation,” it notes. The report uses a method of population weightage (that measures average democracy levels by population size, that is, how many people are affected) to arrive at a Liberal Democracy Index (LDI). This index combines measures of the quality of elections, suffrage, freedom of expression and the media, freedom of association and civil society, checks on the executive, and the rule of law. The report charts in great detail the methods employed in positing figures on this index. The report cites “…the dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi” to illustrate this. Declining press freedom in India is often in the news with the increased slapping of charges (ranging from sedition to defamation) against journalists, along with increased litigation against news reports and those who write them. Several international bodies have urged for the Modi’s government’s lenience in this regard.

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