What makes India rank amongst the most dangerous places for journalists?
India has emerged amongst the most dangerous places for journalists and the reasons for this are as complex as the profession itself
Over the past few weeks we all have read a number of stories about growing attacks on journalists. In the first week of October 2018, the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi grabbed global headlines when he was murdered inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Back home, just a few days back the cameraman of Doordarshan was killed in an attack in Chattisgarh. In June 2018, Editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bhukhari was killed outside his office in Srinagar, and in March 2018 two journalists were run over by an SUV in Bihar because they dared to do an undercover sting against some government officials. These are just few names amongst a long list of scribes who lost their lives in the line of duty.
India becoming increasingly unsafe for journalists
In a recent World Press Freedom Index report by Reporters Without Borders, India has been ranked amongst the most dangerous places for journalists. The country ranked at 138th place on its press freedom index, way behind neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom watchdog, which released its annual 2018 Global Impunity Index ranking has also placed India at the 14th rank and amongst countries that have the worst record of prosecuting the killers of journalists. The CPJ study has revealed that in last 26 years 48 journalists have lost their lives in India and in 2018 the condition has worsened. In this new report India features alongside countries like Somalia, Pakistan, Mexico, South Sudan and Syria, again pointing out to the danger that journalists in the country face.
Tackling the crisis
In the light of these facts, we asked some of the well known Indian journalists about the state of free press in India and the steps that need to be taken to safeguard the journalist community. According to Anurradha Prasad, Chairperson and MD of BAG Network, “Security of journalists is an issue for all of us, more so for women journalists. I wouldn’t pass judgement that India is unsafe for journalists but increasingly one is seeing that journalists are the easiest targets of mobs and hooliganism. I think women journalists are more vulnerable and media has to play a pro active role in exposing the goons.”
Bhupen Chaubey, Executive Editor, CNN News 18 feels that the threats to journalist have become a regular phenomenon in the country. “Threats to journalists now is a regular phenomenon in India. On social media, all kinds of adjectives are used to hurl abuses against journos. It's important that journos tread carefully when they go to conflict zones. We are becoming a society which is on short fuse and journos are getting the worst of it,” stated Chaubey.
Lack of security vs hidden agendas
For veteran journalist and Padma Shri Awardee Alok Mehta, the onus on safety lies both with the state and the journalist. He says, “India is not unsafe for journalists. Certainly in our profession there are more risks and challenges. At the same time journalists should have no bias and should not project or indirectly support extremists and their ideology. Moreover, political or other organisations should also not promote hate against media and should respect freedom of expression.”
Pankaj Pachauri, former Media Advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and now the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of GoNews explains the rising attack on journalists, “If you see, the number of journalists covering dangerous areas, it has increased with the coming of new platforms. Now, you have bloggers going to Iraq to cover news and this has increased the risk to journalists and hence the higher casualty figures. Also, the perpetrators of violence, whether it’s the security forces or the militants, see journalists as threat. So journalists are under attack from both sides. I have experienced this in Kashmir where the security forces don’t want me to know what they are doing and the militants think I’m on the security forces side, and this is a phenomenon that is happening across the world.”
Pachauri also argues that the government needs to put into place strict measures to ensure safety of journalists and at the same time urges journalists to be true to their profession in order to avoid becoming victims of their personal bias.
“The governments have to be very tough on these things and they have to say very vocally that they stand for the freedom of press. The other factor is that journalism has come into disrepute lately as there are accusations of paid news and siding with political parties, and once the journalist becomes partisan the risk to his/her security becomes higher”, added Pachauri.
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