What is the dark reality behind India trailing Pakistan and Afghanistan in the so called ‘World Press Freedom Index’?

India has among the most vibrant and linguistically diverse press in the world. According to Registrar of Newspapers for India, the country has over 100,000 registered publications including over 20,000 dailies in almost 200 languages and dialects. India has over 200 TV News channels in several languages.

India is also the world’s largest democracy. According to some estimates India has the most Newspapers published in any country and the Times of India has the highest circulation for any daily English-language newspaper in the world.

The so-called ‘World Press Freedom Index’ ranks India 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. It ranks India behind countries like Afghanistan (152) and Pakistan (150) where blasphemy is punishable by death.

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India also fares worse than countries like Central African Republic (98) and Somalia (141) with ongoing civil wars. Hence the new World Press Freedom Index raises serious questions about the methodology of these rankings.

We spoke to quantitative comparative sociologist Dr Salvatore Babones about these rankings whose area of expertise is quantitative methods for cross-national comparisons.

Dr Babones is Associate Professor at The University of Sydney. He earned an M.S.E in Mathematical Sciences and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Johns Hopkins University, US. He mentions that India trailing Afghanistan and Hong Kong raises concerns about the integrity of the World Press Freedom Index.

According to this index “with an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media”.

However, Dr Babones points out that between 2014-2023, Annual Journalists death per billion population in India was 2.3 which is lower than US (3.3) and far lower than the rest of the world excluding China (12.3) and yet according to these rankings India is more unsafe for journalists than Afghanistan.

He feels that this is a case where instead of saying that the objective data suggests the opposite of what the subjective survey is showing, they are just looking for data to justify their narrative.

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