India on RSF list of digital predators stifling free speech

Published March 12, 2020
To mark the World Day against Cyber-Censorship on March 12 (today), global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has unveiled a list of press freedom’s 20 worst digital predators in 2020, who use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardise access to news and information. — AFP/File
To mark the World Day against Cyber-Censorship on March 12 (today), global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has unveiled a list of press freedom’s 20 worst digital predators in 2020, who use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardise access to news and information. — AFP/File

KARACHI: To mark the World Day against Cyber-Censorship on March 12 (today), global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has unveiled a list of press freedom’s 20 worst digital predators in 2020, who use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardise access to news and information.

According to the Paris-based body, the 20 Digital Predators of Press Freedom represent a clear danger for freedom of opinion and expression, which is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The list is divided into four categories according to the nature of their activities: harassment, state censorship, disinformation or spying and surveillance.

Whether state offshoots, private-sector companies or informal entities, they reflected a reality of power at the end of the 21st century’s second decade, in which investigative reporters and other journalists who caused displeasure risked being the targets of predatory activity by often hidden actors, it said.

Some operate in despotic countries & some are private companies

Some digital predators operated in despotic countries whose leaders have already been included in the RSF’s list of Press Freedom Predators.

Other digital predators are private-sector companies specialising in targeted cyber-espionage that are based in western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Israel.

The RSF said the power of these enemies of press freedom took many forms. “They locate, identify, and spy on journalists who annoy people in positions of power and authority. They intimidate them by orchestrating online harassment. They reduce them to silence by censoring them in different ways. They even try to destabilise democratic countries by deliberately disseminating false information,” it said.

The RSF list included the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Yoddhas” — the trolls who either volunteer their services or are paid employees of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — for harassment such as social media insults, calls for rape and death threats against journalists who are critical.

It also identified the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs for limiting access to information by disconnecting the internet in India-held Kashmir.

“The authoritarian strongmen behind predatory activity against press freedom are extending their tentacles into the digital world with the help of armies of accomplices, subordinates and henchmen who are organised and determined digital predators,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“We have decided to publish this list of 20 digital predators in order not only to expose another aspect of press freedom violations but also to draw attention to the fact that these accomplices sometimes act from or within democratic countries.”

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2020

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