Is India’s free press not so free after a decade of Modi?


In a democracy, the concept of a free press stands as a cornerstone of societal transparency and accountability. Critically acclaimed yet often contested, the health of a nation’s free press directly reflects its democratic health and commitment to the First Amendment ideals. This truth underscores the importance of examining India’s free press landscape after a decade under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. Given the global significance of India as the world’s largest democracy, the scrutiny of its press freedom is not just a local issue but one with profound international relevance.

This article aims to dissect and elucidate the multifaceted aspects of press freedom in India during Modi’s tenure. It begins with a detailed background, setting the historical context of the free press in India and its evolution over the years. Key facts, quotes from journalists, and data from reputable sources, including references to the free press Detroit and free press Doncaster, will be woven throughout to anchor the discussion in verifiable information. An analysis of the impact of Modi’s policies on press freedom, drawing parallels with free press challenges globally, will be presented, aiming to provide a comprehensive overview and thereby, fostering a deeper understanding of where India stands in its commitment to upholding a free and unencumbered press.

Headline and Lead

Under Modi’s tenure, the state of media freedom in India has raised alarms both domestically and internationally. Journalists face increased threats, harassment, and legal repercussions for their reporting, impacting the broader landscape of free press in India. Notably, the country’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index has plummeted, reflecting growing concerns about media autonomy. High-profile cases, such as the resignation of veteran journalist Ravish Kumar following a controversial corporate takeover of a major news channel by a Modi-affiliated businessman, underscore the pressures on media houses that challenge governmental narratives. This section explores the critical events and policies shaping India’s press freedom under Modi’s administration.

Background Information

India’s journey with press freedom has been complex and fraught with challenges. Historically, the press has played a pivotal role in societal and political movements. From the publication of the first newspaper, The Bengal Gazette by James Augustus Hickey in 1780, which boldly criticized colonial policies, to the vibrant and diverse media landscape of today, the trajectory of press freedom in India reflects its tumultuous history.

Early Beginnings and Colonial Struggles

  1. The Bengal Gazette: Launched in 1780, it was the first newspaper in India, known for its outspoken criticism against the British Raj.
  2. Vernacular Press Act of 1878: This act was specifically designed to curb the vernacular press’s freedom to critique British policies, illustrating the colonial government’s control over the press.

Post-Independence Evolution

  1. The Emergency of 1975-77: A dark period for Indian democracy and press freedom, when civil liberties were suspended, and the press was censored.
  2. Liberalization and Expansion: Post-1991 economic reforms led to a significant expansion in the media sector, with an increase in the number of publications and channels.

Modern Challenges

  1. Digital Era and Media Proliferation: By 2021, India boasted over 100,000 registered periodicals and newspapers, and numerous news channels and websites.
  2. Press Freedom Concerns: Despite constitutional protections, recent years have seen a decline in press freedom rankings, with issues such as violence against journalists and government censorship.

The Indian press, while robust in its reach and scope, continues to face significant pressures that challenge its ability to operate freely in the world’s largest democracy.

Key Facts and Quotes

According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, India’s press freedom ranking has alarmingly dropped to 161 out of 180 countries. This decline reflects a broader trend of deteriorating press conditions globally, where only three out of ten countries maintain a satisfactory environment for journalism. The index highlights the significant influence of political actors in disseminating disinformation, with two-thirds of the countries surveyed reporting systematic propaganda campaigns that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

Journalists in India face increasing threats, with over 50 journalists killed in the last two decades, and many more imprisoned on anti-state charges. The situation is exacerbated by a digital ecosystem ripe with disinformation, where artificial intelligence and social media platforms play pivotal roles in manipulating public perception. The rise of fake content industries and the use of AI to produce plausible yet fraudulent images and stories pose new challenges to maintaining journalistic integrity.

The global perspective shows a mixed scenario. While countries like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden top the index with high scores, indicating robust press freedom, regions like China and North Korea continue to suppress media freedom extensively. The disparity in press freedom across the Asia-Pacific region underscores the varying degrees of governmental control and societal norms impacting journalism.

In response to these challenges, the international journalism community continues to advocate for stronger protections and reforms to safeguard the freedom of the press and ensure the public’s right to accurate and unbiased information.

Analysis and Impact

Escalation of Media Control and Its Implications

  1. Increased Government Control and Media Bias: Observations reveal a significant shift towards authoritarian governance, where the Modi administration has exerted increased control over the media. This includes tactics like the suppression of dissenting voices and the strategic manipulation of media narratives to favor government perspectives.
  2. Impact on Democratic Structures: The aggressive media environment, characterized by biased reporting and a lack of independent journalism, has led to a dilution of democratic norms. This environment fosters a culture where misinformation can flourish, impacting public opinion and the overall democratic process.
  3. Legal and Political Pressure on Media: The use of legal frameworks to intimidate and silence journalists has become more pronounced. This includes arbitrary arrests and the application of sedition and anti-terrorism laws against critics of the government, further constricting the space for free expression.

The Role of Digital Media and Public Perception

  • Manipulation Through Digital Channels: The government’s influence extends into digital media, where there is significant control over the information disseminated to the public. This includes the use of social media to shape public perception, often bypassing traditional media channels which might offer more balanced views.
  • Public Sentiment and Media Consumption: The controlled media narrative has led to a polarized public, where dissent is often met with hostility. This polarization is evident in the treatment of journalists and the general acceptance of government narratives over independent reporting.

Economic Influences and Media Sustainability

  • Economic Pressures on Media Outlets: Financial dependencies make media outlets susceptible to government influence. Advertising revenue, often controlled by the government, can be a tool for exerting pressure, affecting editorial independence.
  • Consequences for Media Diversity and Integrity: The economic challenges faced by media houses lead to a reduction in investigative journalism and a focus on sensationalism to attract viewership, further degrading the quality of public discourse.

Global Implications and Comparative Analysis

  • India’s Position on the Global Stage: India’s decline in press freedom rankings has international implications, reflecting broader global trends towards diminishing media freedom. This decline is juxtaposed against the backdrop of other democracies where press freedom is either protected or under similar threats.
  • Lessons and Warnings: The situation in India serves as a cautionary tale for other nations, highlighting the need for vigilance to protect democratic values and press freedom.


Throughout the article, the evolving landscape of press freedom in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure has been meticulously examined, revealing a complex narrative of increased pressures on media houses, journalists, and the essence of free press itself. The evidence suggests a marked shift in the democratic fabric of the world’s largest democracy, evidenced by the decline in media autonomy and the escalation of government control, which mirrors a concerning global trend towards diminished press freedoms. These findings underscore the critical need for a vigilant and resilient press, capable of upholding the principles of transparency, accountability, and impartial reporting in the face of growing challenges.

As this exploration comes to a close, it is imperative to acknowledge the broader implications of India’s press freedom on the international stage, serving as both a reflection and a warning for democracies worldwide. The decline in press freedom within India not only raises alarms about the state of journalism and democracy within its borders but also highlights the essential role of a free press in safeguarding the democratic process and ensuring an informed citizenry. Moving forward, the call for stronger protections, sustained advocacy for press autonomy, and the fostering of a media environment free from undue influence remains paramount, not just for India, but as a foundational element of democratic societies around the globe.


How unrestricted is press freedom in India?

The Indian Constitution safeguards the rights to freedom of speech and of the press. Despite this, there are claims that the freedom of the press is limited, with the government favoring media that aligns with its views and those of the ruling party.

What constitutional provision protects the press in India?

Freedom of the press is encompassed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech and expression. This provision is pivotal for the sustenance of a free, independent, and robust media, crucial for the democracy of a diverse nation like India.

What limitations exist on press freedom in India?

There are several legal and regulatory hurdles that can impede press freedom in India, including defamation laws, sedition laws, and legislation concerning national security. These laws can be utilized to limit the freedom of the press.

Are the freedom of the press and the right to privacy upheld in India?

In India, the freedom of the press is protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which also guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, these rights are not without limits and can be restricted to safeguard national security, maintain public order, and protect the rights of others, balancing it with the right to privacy.

Parul Pathania
Parul Pathania
Parul Pathania is a prolific writer renowned for their incisive analysis and thought-provoking commentary on politics, government affairs, and societal issues. With a knack for distilling complex topics into digestible insights, Parul Pathania offers readers a valuable perspective on the ever-changing landscape of governance and public policy. Through their engaging writing, she illuminates the intricacies of political systems and provides a platform for informed discussions.

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