Inked in blood

 Shreyasi Jha |  2015-08-30 20:36:53.0  |  New Delhi

Inked in blood

Recently the Home Ministry said that the data on the murder of journalists was not maintained separately, and 113 cases were registered and 30 people arrested for attacking media persons in 2014.

Concerning attacks on media persons, Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told the Lok Sabha in a written reply that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has started collecting data on attacks on media persons (grievously injured) since 2014. Data on <g data-gr-id="122">murder</g> of journalists is not maintained separately.

He also said that the ministry has not received the report on safety of journalists from the Press Council of India (PCI) and also has no proposal to set up a special task force (STF) to investigate attacks on journalists. He said representations from all individuals, including journalists, are referred to security agencies for assessment of their threat.

According to reports, a maximum of 63 media persons were attacked in Uttar Pradesh and the highest number of people arrested for these crimes, at 10, were reported from Madhya Pradesh during the same time period. The data provided by the Minister said there were 22 cases registered by the police for attacks on media in Bihar, seven in Madhya Pradesh, five in Maharashtra, three each in Jharkhand and Gujarat, four in Andhra Pradesh and two each in Assam and Tripura, among others.

While six people were arrested for these crimes in Maharashtra, four each <g data-gr-id="133">were</g> apprehended in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh respectively and three in Bihar among other actions. India has a dubious distinction when it comes to the safety of journalists. India has one of the most vibrant independent media, which is very powerful and does not spare anybody. At the same time, India is also one of the most dangerous <g data-gr-id="132">place</g> for the journalists. It proves that even the democratic nations can be brutal.
Journalists face harassment, intimidation and worse death on a regular basis. Journalists working in smaller places and rural areas face maximum trouble. Unlike their big city fellow journalists, these media persons have no job security, no fixed salary of income, no big and powerful networks and no institutional support. The booming social media has given birth to a new breed of journalists. They aggressively use Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to do their own independent journalism. Even though their reach is small or very limited they actually act as a source of spicy news for the bigger media. These new breed of journalists who sometimes double up as activists face the wrath of the people in power more than those in traditional media like print and TV.

The recent alleged burning of two journalists in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh within a gap of just two weeks has brought the focus back on the safety of journalists in India. It does not mean that the journalists who work for bigger media houses are safe. They too face harassment, intimidation and even threat to their lives.

Director, Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) Dhenkanal, Mrinal Chatterjee underlines three reasons for attacks on journalists. Firstly, when a journalist writes something about somebody who does not like it, he reacts. And with society becoming more and more violent, the reaction turns violent increasingly more violent.

Secondly, people attacking the journalists are aware of their vulnerability which has increased over time, because most of them are not permanent employees of media organisations. Therefore, it is easy for somebody to attack a journalist with nobody to protect him or her. And thirdly, most people attacking journalists know about the loopholes of <g data-gr-id="136">judicial</g> system and are sure they will get away with the crime owing to the slow process of a trial.

Chatterjee added, even protests do not deter the perpetrators because everybody knows that these kinds of protest will <g data-gr-id="114">fizzle-out</g> in one or two days. I would not say that people are not scared of the law, retribution and the society, but this fear is decreasing. In conflict areas like Jammu and Kashmir, north-eastern states and Naxal-affected states, journalists face <g data-gr-id="135">threat</g> from both authorities and the militants or rebels. In 2012, India was dubbed the second most dangerous place for working journalists. In 2014, India’s rank went up to 4th place and is still considered a dangerous place as many powerful people are using the law to harass or silence journalists. They drag them to the court by filing criminal defamation cases seeking huge compensation or damages.

The highly competitive media that is doing a <g data-gr-id="124">tight rope</g> walk usually avoids more trouble and tones down its coverage just to stay safe. According to website “Committee to Protect Journalist” while 35 journalists have been murdered with confirmed motive, 22 others were killed with unconfirmed motive in India since 1992. This data is up to June 8, 2015.

Sarvesh Dutt Tripathi, Journalism professor at Indraprastha University said, “The trend of journalism is also changing now and whenever journalists follow the news value, he does not compromise and to maintain the truthfulness of journalism, he writes and publishes whatever he finds, so maximum attacks are reported in this case. In India, when a journalist does a story on corruption or an investigative story, he faces attacks.”

Tripathi also said, “In some cases it has been observed that journalists write for a personal interest instead of public interest. Journalists are often attacked in terrorist infested areas like Jharkhand and rather it should Chhattisgarh for writing against the Naxalites.  They must ensure that their stories are for wider public interest.”

The recent case of Jagendra Singh, a freelancer from Shahjahanpur, UP being burnt to death by the police, highlights the risk that journalists and reporters face in carrying out their duties. The case becomes even more serious as a senior minister in the UP government is reportedly involved in ordering the killing. If proven true, this will be yet another case of political power being abused for political or personal reasons. The unfortunate death of Jagendra Singh also highlights the nexus between power wielders and the police, which seems to be a ready participant to please their political masters.

Sandeep Kothari, 40, who reported for local Hindi-language dailies in the region, was allegedly abducted and then burned to death by three men linked to an illegal sand-mining racket in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh because of his refusal to withdraw a court complaint against them.
In another case, journalist Haider Khan, who had reported on illegal land grabs, was severely beaten by a group of men suspected to have been acting in response to one of his reports.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “India has repeatedly failed to advance justice in the cases of journalists working for local print publications that have been slain in connection to their reporting on corruption, politics or crime.” Another journalist Tarun Kumar Acharya, working as a reporter for Sambad, an Oriya newspaper, was found dead with his throat slit on May 28.

The nation was shocked earlier when Aaj Tak journalist Akshay Singh died in mysterious circumstances, allegedly of a heart attack, while investigating the Vyapam scam. The incident brought the insidious nature of the events surrounding the scam to popular attention but, if proved, it will hardly be the first time that a reporter has been killed in the line of duty.

Arvind Mohan, Editor at ABP news said, “Government must ensure the safety of the messenger and provide journalists with security. If attacks are done by a mafia or a person outside the law, they are punished. But if the government and the police do the same, then they should not be forgiven.  If attacks are done by any MPs or MLAs or any policeman then they must be caught first. In case of Jagendra Singh of UP, the name of Chief Minister has come and till he remains as CM, it will be very tough to do any inquiry.”

“In India, the situation is better than other countries of the region. Now some educated have started taking interest in politics. Earlier only those were joining politics who were not able to become doctor or engineers. They were the back- benchers in their classes. I hope, the situation will improve due to this”, Khurram Raza, editor of an Urdu Daily said.

Journalists should maintain strict neutrality and impartiality when covering conflict situations. Vineet Kumar, a media critic said, “attack on journalists is not a new phenomenon.The organisation or state machinery assume that they can control media because they are spending lots of money on advertisements as well as on PR practices. But, some of the journalists do not follow the norms of PR practices, that’s why they are victimised. The second thing is that the mainstream media either with the help of these machinery or the political parties create a positive ambience for the political parties.”

“Recently, the central govt has issued legal notices to three prominent channels—Aaj Tak, NDTV and ABP news regarding their coverage on hanging of Yakub Memon. So, if you are doing journalism, you must have to be pro-corporate, pro-state machinery. And if you are pro-people, attack will be a continued phenomenon”, Kumar said. Attacks on journalists are common the world over and they continue to remain targets of those having vested interests in the issues they highlight. It is indeed worrying to see that the attacks on members of the media seem to be increasing both in frequency and brutality.

Chatterjee suggested ways to reduce attacks, “firstly, the body of the journalist must be strong and take the issues it picks up to the logical end. Secondly, it should be made legally mandatory for the media organisation in which a particular journalist is working, to stand strongly behind the murdered or harmed journalists. And thirdly, any attack on a journalist should be tried at a 
fast-track court.”

There is no way that any civilised society can condone violence as a means of redress. Also, a democratic society that constitutionally guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions, cannot consider physical restriction as a reasonable restriction.

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