New Delhi: As the world celebrates Press Freedom Day, Friday, it is important to remember that India has slipped two ranks to 140th position in the World Press Freedom Index this year.
War-torn Afghanistan and Myanmar fared better — at 121st and 138th spot, respectively.
Norway topped the Index, which has been compiled by Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders (RWB) that works to defend media freedom across the world.
The Index mentioned that “in India where critics of Hindu nationalism were branded as ‘anti-Indian’ in online harassment campaigns, six journalists were murdered in 2018”.
Eminent jurist Fali Nariman told a gathering at the Press Club of India in New Delhi in June 2017, “Freedom after speech – that is really what freedom of speech is all about”. He emphasised that “you are allowed to speak, speak as much as you like, but there is a fellow waiting there to nab you and out you in so you can’t speak again.”
According to data published by Committee to Protect Journalists, 12 journalists were murdered in India in the past five years. This period has also witnessed journalists being killed, sedition charges and death threats as well as forced resignations — none of these augur well for the Indian press on the World Press Freedom Day. ThePrint takes a look at some of the cases.
Senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was an activist and editor of Bengaluru-based Lankesh Patrika, a weekly tabloid started by her father P. Lankesh. Lankesh Patrika was known for its anti-establishment, anti-caste and secular stance. Gauri was a well-known critic of the Hindu nationalists and Modi government.
She was killed on 5 September 2017 outside her house in Bengaluru by assailants who pumped bullets into her head and chest.
A year before her murder, Gauri was convicted in two separate defamation cases filed by BJP MP Prahlad Joshi. Investigations claimed to have established links between her killers and those who murdered rationalist M.M. Kalburgi.
Editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated outside his office in Srinagar by unidentified gunmen on 14 June 2018.
In November 2018, six Lashkar-E-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants, including the one who was being investigated for Bukhari’s murder, were killed by the Army in an encounter at Bijbehara, Jammu & Kashmir.
Bukhari had mastered the art of conflict-reporting and advocated for a peaceful solution to the Kashmir conflict.
New York Times wrote, “No one was spared in Mr. Bukhari’s journalism, which meticulously documented Kashmir’s plight. He took on everyone: The violent militants who promote separatism and the Indian and Pakistani armies that shell each other from the swaths of the province they both occupy.”
Achyuta Nanda Sahu
Doordarshan cameraperson Achyuta Nanda Sahu was killed along with two policemen in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district on 30 October 2018.
A three-member team of Doordarshan was travelling in the Naxal-hit area for election-related coverage before the state Assembly elections that took place in November 2018.
Three days after his death, Maoists issued a statement saying, “DD Cameraman Achyuta Nanda Sahu was killed after being caught in the ambush and we had no intention of targeting the media”.
Rajdev Ranjan was the Siwan bureau chief of Hindi daily Hindustan in Bihar. He was murdered near the busy Station Road in Siwan by bike-borne assailants on 13 May 2016.
Charges were framed against former RJD MP Mohammad Shahabuddin and seven others for Ranjan’s murder. He had written several reports on court proceedings against the RJD strongman, who had several cases pending against him.
In the early hours of 9 December 2018, Jharkhand-based journalist Amit Topno, who was working with Video Volunteer, was killed in Ghagra region.
Topno had extensively covered several issues ranging from illegal alcohol sales, tribal rights, sand mining, human trafficking and land rights, among others. Months before his death, Topno had covered the Pathalgadi movement that sought to assert self-governance for tribal people.
So far, no suspect has been identified by the police in Topno’s murder.
Manipur-based television anchor working with ISTV Kishorechandra Wangkhem was arrested on 21 November 2018 on charges of sedition. Reason: He criticised Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on social media. In a video posted on Facebook, he had called the chief minister a “puppet” of Hindutva.
He was released on bail on 26 November, but was again detained two days later under the National Security Act (NSA) and sent to jail, where he remained for the next four months.
His arrest evoked widespread criticism across the country and Congress president Rahul Gandhi condemned Wangkhem’s detention. In a letter to Wangkhem, he wrote, “I strongly condemn your detention under NSA. This is another attempt to use the state machinery to silence dissent. Over the past few months, we have witnessed the BJP government’s design to trample on the constitutional rights of the people of Manipur.”
On 7 April 2019, Manipur High Court quashed the order under which Wangkhem was arrested and ordered for his release.
Editor of Bhumkal Samachar, Kamal Shukla was charged with sedition for sharing a cartoon on Facebook, related to the Supreme Court’s observations on the death of judge B.H. Loya.
Loya died in December 2014 while presiding over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court hearing the high-profile Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.
Shukla told Firstpost, “People across the country are expressing their views on the issue and so did I. Nothing was offensive about the cartoon nor did it amount to sedition”.
Deaths threats & lewd comments
In an interview to The Hindu, NDTV prime-time anchor Ravish Kumar had said deaths threats were issued not only to him, but also women members of his family through phone calls and social media.
Kumar even mentioned that the threats were “well-organised and has political sanctions”.
In his book The Free Voice, Ravish wrote the “new India” has become a “republic of fear” with the help of BJP’s IT Cell.
Senior journalist Barkha Dutt was temporarily blocked from using her Twitter account for posting images and threats, which she received on the micro-blogging site.
“I would like to place on record my absolute horror and disgust at Twitter’s encouragement of sexual abuse and gender inequality,” said Dutt.
Raids at media houses
In June 2017, the CBI conducted searches at the office of NDTV and residences of its founders, including Prannoy Roy, for allegedly defrauding ICICI bank to the tune of Rs 48 crores. NDTV in a statement called it a “blatant political attack on the freedom of press”.
In October 2018, Income tax officials raided the office of online news portal The Quint as well as the residence of its founder Raghav Bahl. The tax officials were looking for documents and other evidence related to a case of “bogus long term capital gains (LTCG) received by various beneficiaries”.
Following this incident, The Editors Guild of India in a statement said that “motivated” IT raids would seriously undermine media freedom.
Reuters in a report published in April 2018 wrote, “Three senior editors have left their jobs at various influential media outlets in the past six months after publishing reports that angered the government or supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.”
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