Government must enforce law for safety and security of journalists amid stark realities of threats
Killing and threats to Journalist are due to different reasons. The reason arises from the depth of Indian Social and political complexities.
Freedom of the press has often been under attack. Mediapersons and media houses not only in conflict zones but also across the breath and length of the country have long faced attacks and threats for various reasons. The safety and security of journalists and the press in the country has, however, never been a matter of serious concern for both the Indian Academy and media industries. Despite the presence of several journalist associations in the country, serving journalists deployed in the areas of conflict and crisis across borders (Northeast or Kashmir or North-West across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan) have been repeatedly demanding for the removal of impunity to the military, armed police and special armed constabulary. The government’s apathy, however, continued unabated till today.
Recently, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in its report on “End Impunity in India” stated that the journalists association in India, including IFJ affiliates, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and the national Union of Journalists (India) have been expressing deep concern at the slow progress of investigation on killings of journalists or mediapersons in the country. They have been demanding a separate law for the safety and protection of journalists and speedy prosecution in case of murder and other crime cases. In 2015, the press Council of India (PCI) recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), an independent intelligence body, conduct thorough investigation into the killings of journalists in the year 2016. The report also added that journalists in rural areas and small towns, especially those working for regional language media, apparent to be more vulnerable to intimidation and attack by several groups and even being killed for their works.
Many take grave risks to expose corruption, lapses, crime and nexus between the law enforcing agencies and politicians. Geographical locations, class, caste and social network are as significant as job security and backing by the employers. In the absence of any backing, freelancers, stringers and those on precarious contract were more at risk and their killers more likely to get away with murder and threats. Ironically, it is these intrepid freelance journalists’ and stringers who uncover major scams and corruption where corporate-backed media house fear to tread.
The spate of killings of reputed Indian journalists, Gauri Lankesh of Bengaluru, K.J Singh (Punjab), Bhaumik Santanu and Sudip Datta Bhaumik (Tripura) and Rajesh Mishra (Uttar Pradesh) has once again brought to the fore the stark realities of threats hanging over the lives of intrepid journalists or mediapersons who have evinced a lot of courage to espouse the causes of truth and expose the wrong. While these journalists did not die in cross firing across the border of India, they fell to the bullets of mafia that operated in tandem with the local feudalists or capitalists or factionist groups catering to the political clouts in their respective areas of work or reporting.
The unfortunate assassination of KJ Singh further heightened the magnitude of the crisis as his 92-year-old mother was also eliminated during an attempt to assassinate him. Despite all these unfortunate happening, there is a trepid or lukewarm response both from the government and media-house, besides the Indian Academy. There is the horrendous fact that every year India is losing not less than 10 to 15 precious lives of journalists or mediapersons, on average, mostly drawn from the conflict areas such as the Northeast or Kashmir or the border areas in Northwest, or from the Naxal-infested forest areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. But for playing the requiem in the last-post blare, the journalists who laid down their lives for the honour of the nation or for a greater cause have not received any honours-either from the Government of India or from the agencies they work for.
While the role of the Government of India in neglecting the “Safety and security of Journalists”, covering risk zone has been writ large for over decades ever since the independence of the country, the apathy of the news agencies in the private sector to provide safety and security to working journalists in risk zone is deplorably apparent. Another interesting dimension to this grossly neglected area is that no media organization has carried out any protest campaign or movement, even if its own journalists are killed. It is true that the killing of journalists in India is very high compared with other countries in South-Asia and in other parts of the world.
As rightly observed in the report of the International Federation of Journalists in 2016, Uttar Pradesh is the most dangerous one followed by a number of other states in North-East (Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh), in the North (Kashmir,Himachal Pradesh and Punjab) and in North-West (Rajasthan). Among south Indian states, Karnataka registered a high incidence of the killing of working journalists. Karnataka is followed by Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
More than urban-centric journalists, rural journalists, stringers and freelance journalists face more risk to their life when they endeavour to report crime and corruption in higher political circles. According to the IFJ report in 2012, about 73 journalists have been killed since 2005 and 95 journalists were slain during the period 1990-2004. According to a report of the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2016, ”Getting Away with Murder: 2016 Global Impunity Index” in at least 40 per cent of the cases, the victim reported receiving threats before they were actually killed. Unfortunately, neither the police nor the management of media houses has ever taken these matters seriously. This kind of apathy makes it an all the more important case for an imperative study of several dimensions involved in the indispensable “Security and safety of Journalist” reporting on sensitive matters such as crime, corruption and politics.
A report published by the Press Trust of India (PTI) in the year 2014, carried the news that among 23 journalists killed in 2013 in South-Asia, 12 were from India alone. The report also indicated the government for not solving the mystery of the killings of the journalists. The PTI report in 2014, quoting the IFJ report of 2012, stated that the most disturbing development is the increasingly targeted nature of violence in both Pakistan and India.
The report of PTI in 2015 and 2016 also stated that most of the cases involving the killing of journalists remained shrouded in mysteries and unsolved. Actually, in many cases, the trial of the accused did not even take off. The latest report of CPJ stated that about 11 journalists identified as working on corruption and politics were killed in the last 10 years and their murder mystery is not yet resolved by the police. The status of the cases implies that they were perfectly planned murders and ensured to escape from the long arms of the law.
The CPJ report (2015) published in “The Hoot” web portal under the title “Getting Away with Murder”, has stated that India’s impunity index rating is 0.08 making India’s presence among the countries known for killing journalist with impunity for eight successive years in a row. In 2017, the IFJ demanded that the Central Government should bring in a law that ensures the security and protection of the working journalists and freelancers operating in Maoist or extremist infested areas such as North-East, Central and South India, as reported by PTI in 2016. It is also demanded the Government to bring in an insurance scheme of not less than 100 million rupees for scribes so that their families do not suffer economically if something unfortunate befalls on any members of their families.
A report by Freedom House in 2016 said that with the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, the freedom of press touched its lowest point in the last 12 years owing to political criminals and terrorist forces seeking to co-opt or silence the media and attack the freedom of the press in their struggle for power. The report further analyzed that heightened partisanship and polarization in a country’s media environment and the degree of extra-legal intimidation and physical violence against journalists. Reporters Sans Frontiers in its report held the view that mafia and cartels began to pose the biggest threat to the freedom of media worldwide.
In the case of Northeast states in India, the media was caught between various militant outfits as well as police or military forces. The Manipur press also confronts a similar threatening situation. On the one hand, the media personnel get threats of killing from different militant outfits and on the other, the police and the military threaten mediapersons or media houses of dire consequences, including threats of encounter. There are twin reasons for this: first the militants’ outfits wage war with the state of Manipur and Government of India and second, they enter into conflicts with other militant outfits to gain an upper hand in the region. As a result, they send different notices of threats and blockades to media for publication of certain news. If the media publish one outfit’s notice, it will invite the wrath of rival militant outfits.
Against the prevailing backdrop, the media associations in the state have promulgated a code of conduct for all journalists and media persons on June 19, 2005, which is still in force. Besides this, journalists in Manipur also often recieve threats from the coteries of high profile and powerful people in political corridors for exposing their loopholes and wrong doing to the public through their various publications and news channels. One such a case was reported that the editor of a leading English evening daily was questioned by two close associates of a heavy weight politician of Manipur for allegedly reporting misappropriation of Member of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund on June 30, 2019. In another case, one Manipuri journalist was also booked under the National Security Agency (NSA) on the ground that he used derogatory remarks in social media platforms against the chief minister of Manipur and the prime minister of India.
In an unfortunate case in western Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli, a journalist faced serious atrocities in the hands of security forces. He was beaten up on camera by a group of GRP (government railway police) personnel led by SHO Rakesh Kumar in the night of June 11, 2019, when he went to cover a train derailment. He was forced to strip. He was thrashed and was even urinated upon, in his mouth.
In another incident, Mitali Chandola, a female journalist, was shot at in east Delhi’s Vasundhara Enclave by some masked men inside a car and threw eggs at her before speeding away. She was then admitted to a hospital.
On January 17, 2021, the editor-in-chief and the executive editor of a local (Manipur’s) web portal were arrested for the publication of an article based on an FIR under the Unlawful Atrocities (prevention) Act (UAPA) and Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC by the Singjamei Police.
On January 29, 2021, the Editors Guild of India condemned the “intimidating manner” in which the police of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have registered cases against journalists and editors for reporting the violence during a tractor rally protest by farmers in Delhi on January 26, 2021. The FIR was filed against, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mirnal Pande, Quami Awaz editor, Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, The Caravan’s editor Anant Nath and its executive editor Vinod K Jose. On Saturday, February 13, the office of a leading Manipuri local daily “Poknapham” and The People's Chronicle was attacked with a hand grenade lobbed at the office by an unknown woman for the reason unknown to the said media house.
Killing of journalists and threats meted out to journalists and media houses are due to different reasons. The reason arises from the depth of the Indian Social and political complexities. The government needs to enforce a law for safety and security of journalists so that what is called the fourth pillar of democracy (Journalism) can work proactively for good governance and welfare of the people and the nation as a whole.