With mounting attacks on scribes across the world, the fourth estate in India is drowning in the murky ocean of media intolerance.
Uncovering the truth is the profession of a journalist. However, truth always comes at a cost. Presently it is charged with the markedly heavy price of death.
Freedom House, an independent research and human advocacy group, contends that attacks on journos in the last decade has ebbed to its nadir. In India, the violence has risen rapidly with more than 80 journalists having been deprived of their lives in the last 25 years.
In Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Jagendra Singh, a Hindi journalist was burnt to death at the behest of a politician. On the same day, body of a journalist from Madhya Pradesh was found in Maharashtra while a photojournalist was beaten up in Jharkhand.
More recently, Arun Chaturvedi, an editor of a Hindi weekly was smashed with an iron rod for objecting to dumping of waste on the roadside.
While the government keeps making renewed assurances about their safety, little to no action has been taken against people previously involved in brazen attacks on media persons.
Compensating families of slain journalists without bringing to book the accused, is a denigrating attempt to buy their silence. Concrete steps need to be undertaken to ensure the cessation of such dastardly backlashes.
Immediate filing of FIR against such attacks is a basic necessity. Press Council of India’s (PCI) tinkering with the idea of an independent social security mechanism for proving insurance cover to journalists needs to be actualized.
It is now an established fact that government’s apathy is stifling the voice of the independent journalism. Moreover, for its crucial branch of investigative journalism to function freely, adequate security mechanisms are but a prerequisite.
Beyond blaming the government, the broader question of press freedom in today’s times of increasing conflict and intolerance can only be answered when each citizen understands the grave danger that violence poses to the democratic fabric of the nation.
New Delhi, May 3, 2017: As many as 54 attacks on journalists were reported in 16 months, mainly by “lawmakers and law enforcers”, a report compiled by media watchdog Hoot said on Tuesday, a day ahead of the World Press Freedom Day.
The report said the actual figure could be much higher as a minister told Parliament that “142 attacks on journalists took place between 2014-15”.
“The stories behind each of these attacks reveal a clear and persistent pattern. Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous. Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story, be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, eviction drive, election campaigns, or civic administration corruption are under attack,” it said.
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The attacks were committed by political parties and their leaders (8), police (9), and mobs resisting media coverage (9).
Apart from attacks, the report took into account invocation of sedition law, suspension of Internet services in a region, self-censorship on part of media companies, censoring of films and other arts, among other instances which may frustrate free functioning of the media.
The shutdown of the printing presses of two Kashmir newspapers after the killing of militant Burhan Wani, and the ban on Kashmir Reader for three months during the same period, were cited in the report as instances of media censorship.
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Other such instances included a one-day ban on NDTV news channel for its coverage of the Pathankot attack last January, which “… supposed to have revealed strategic information about the operation”.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry however put the ban on hold after the channel approached the Supreme Court.
The sedition law was also used unsparingly and “went viral”, as the report said.
“A large number of cases were filed — 18 between January and June last year. By the end of the year, the figure was 40,” it said.
The media watchdog cited examples of killings of Right to Information (RTI) activists, and appointment of ‘bureaucrats’ as Chief Information Commissioners instead of “persons of eminence in public life”, as the concerned Act says.
“Currently, 91.6 per cent of Chief Information Commissioners in states are retired bureaucrats, as are 93 per cent of Central Information Commissioners,” the report said.
Jammu and Kashmir suffered the longest and bans on Internet services the most — 13 times in 16 months, with Haryana coming second with Internet suspension nine times in as many months. (IANS)
What is World Press Freedom Day? Global observance that stresses that freedom of information is a fundamental human right, weighs the state of press freedom around the world, and is a reminder that in dozens of countries, publications are censored, fined and closed down, while journalists and editors are harassed, attacked, detained and sometimes murdered.
Why May 3? Date adopted by United Nations in 1993; commemorates the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek.
What is the Declaration of Windhoek? A statement of free press principles put together by newspaper journalists in Africa during a UNESCO seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1991.
What does it do? Declaration of Windhoek calls for free, independent, pluralistic media worldwide, characterizing free press as essential to democracy and as a fundamental human right.
Milestones recognized on May 3, 2016
• 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland
• 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Windhoek of press freedom principles in Namibia.
• First year of the 15-year life cycle of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of goals adopted September 25, 2015, to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.
May 2-4, 2016, held in Helsinki, Finland, and being organized by UNESCO and Finnish Ministry for Education and Culture
UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
Awarded to Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist from Azerbaijan. Ismayilova served for two years as the Baku bureau chief for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service, Radio Azadliq.
Ismayilova was initially arrested and jailed on December 5, 2014, on libel charges that international human rights groups said were trumped up. She was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on charges relating to abuse of power and tax evasion. Human Rights Watch described the proceedings as a politically motivated prosecution, flawed trial, and a campaign to discredit her.
“Khadija Ismayilova highly deserves the prize and I am happy to see that her courage and professionalism are recognized,” said Ljiljana Zurovac, president of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016 Jury.
The award is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá in December 1986, after speaking out against drug cartels. (VOA)
Pinning blame on leaders in Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Malaysia, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed those four countries along with Bangladesh in the bottom third among 180 nations evaluated in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
The index released on Wednesday had Indonesia, at 130, ranked highest among the five Asian nations, followed by India – the world’s most populous democracy – at 133; Junta-ruled Thailand, at 136; Bangladesh at 144; and Malaysia at 146.
The annual index “reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the past year,” Paris-based RSF said in releasing the 2016 index.
Writing about the Asia-Pacific region, the report specifically cited India and Bangladesh for taking little action in response to violence against journalists and writers.
“Wherever they work, Indian journalists are exposed to growing violence. As well as frequent verbal and physical violence, attacks by armed groups are on the rise in several states and the local authorities have had little success in reining it in,” RSF said in a press release.
RSF said there was almost one attack on an Indian journalist each month and four journalists were murdered in 2015, including at least two in connection with their work.
The Committee to Protect Journalists identified those Indian reporters killed in four separate incidents last year as freelancers Jagendra Singh and Sandeep Kothari, Aaj Tak reporter Akshay Singh, and TV24 reporter Hemant Yadav.
India saw its ranking improve by three spots from last year, yet RSF criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apparent indifference on the issue of press freedom.
“Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematized by various religious groups that are quick to take offense. At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government,” the report said.
“Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists. Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials,” RSF added.
Regarding Bangladesh, which moved up two spots to No. 144 on the index, RSF alluded to threats against secular writers or anyone who questioned the official religion.
“It is a bad idea to criticize the constitution or Islam, the state religion. Journalists and bloggers who refuse to submit to censorship or to censor themselves on these subjects risk life imprisonment or the death penalty,” RSF’s report said.
Last year alone, five secular writers were hacked to death by suspected militants in Bangladesh.
Indonesia shows improvement
Although Indonesia ranked 130th out of 180 nations and showed significant improvement by moving up eight spots on the index, RSF criticized President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for not doing enough to uphold press freedom in his country.
“Sometimes dubbed the Indonesian Obama, President Joko Widodo has disappointed. His presidency continues to be marked by serious media freedom violations, including lack of access to West Papua, an information black hole,” the report said, referring to a restive province on the eastern end of Indonesia.
“Journalists and fixers trying to work there are liable to be arrested. The problem is compounded by Indonesia’s visa law, which discriminates against foreign journalists. At the same time, many poorly paid journalists accept bribes in return for positive coverage,” RSF said.
Thai junta challenged
The report also took aim at the military leadership in Thailand, which dropped two spots on the index, to 136. RSF called the junta ubiquitous and all-powerful, claiming it exercised permanent control over journalists and citizen-journalists.
“Its leader, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, is given to frequent verbal attacks and even death threats against journalists. He is a new predator of information,” the report claimed.
In November, RSF published a separate report claiming that the junta had created a “reign of terror” over the Thai media since seizing power in May 2014.
The junta’s obsessiveness with peace and order – “or its use as a pretext, has stripped journalists and independent civil society representatives of the media freedom and freedom of information that they had won at great cost during the previous decade,” the November report said.
In Malaysia, RSF criticized the country’s leader for ordering police crackdowns on the media amid corruption scandals overshadowing his government.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak wages a personal war against independent media and does not hesitate to order police raids on newsrooms. These heavy-handed operations often result in arbitrary arrests,” the report said.
“The persecution of outspoken journalists extends to the Internet, where sites such as Sarawak and The Edge have been blocked for reporting alleged corruption involving government officials.”
Measuring the data
In compiling information for its index that gauges press freedom worldwide, RSF devised and distributed a questionnaire to journalists, lawyers and sociologists in the 180 countries.
“The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information,” RSF explained.
In addition, a team of specialists kept a detailed tally of abuses and violence against journalists and media outlets. Scores are calculated on the basis of the questionnaire responses combined with the data on abuses and violence against journalists. (BenarNews)