Kashmir turmoil sees India drop in press freedom rankings

Kashmir turmoil sees India drop in press freedom rankings

Media bodies in India-administered Kashmir Wednesday called for an end to curbs on the press as India's ranking dipped sharply in the latest Press Freedom Index, DPA reported.

Local reporters have been beaten and prevented from covering the recent unrest as the Himalayan region was gripped by violent anti-India demonstrations that have seen nearly 110 protestors killed since June.

The 2010 World Press Freedom Index published Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders ranked India 122nd of the 178 countries surveyed.

The drop of 17 places compared with last year's list was "mainly due to extreme violence in Kashmir," the Paris-based organization, known by its French acronym of RSF, said in its report.

The Press Guild of Kashmir on Wednesday spoke out against the conditions during the clashes.

"During the prevailing unrest, government forces including police beat journalists and even created circumstances making publication of local newspapers impossible," it said, adding that police had seized some local newspapers.

Individual journalists have also complained of pressure on the media during the turmoil, including harassment and assaults by police.

"Assaults on journalists smack of a conspiracy to muzzle the Kashmir press which has been discharging its duties in difficult circumstances," guild member and journalist Bashir Manzer said.

Earlier this month, state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah apologized to a prominent video journalist who was severely beaten up by police. He also apologized for the newspaper seizures.

RSF said the rapid economic growth seen by several countries did not appear always to translate into freedom of the press.

Singling out the so-called BRIC countries of India, Russia, Brazil and China, it said those countries "may all be at a roughly similar stage of economic development but the 2010 index highlights major differences in the press freedom situation."

Brazil climbed 12 points to 58th position in this year's ranking thanks to new legislation, while Russia, which had a particularly deadly year for journalists in 2009, remained in the lower rankings at 140.

Despite a vibrant blogosphere, China still continued to languish in 171st place, due to its active censoring and imprisonment of dissidents.

"These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights," the report said.

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