Protests

Targeted but fragmented

Print edition : September 29, 2017

At a meeting organised to condemn the killing of Gauri Lankesh in New Delhi on September 6. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

THE brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh has brought into sharp focus attacks on journalists in different parts of India over the past few years. Reports of various media watch groups and government agencies such as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on different aspects of the attacks on journalists have also been discussed in this context. One of the major takeaways from the renewed focus on this issue is that self-defeating fragmentation and polarisation in the media have resulted in the lack of a cohesive response from the fraternity to such attacks. In fact, this was stated in as many words in the 2016 Special Report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in New York. The CPJ report states: “Journalism as well as journalists [are] in danger from failure to stand up for India’s press.” One of the presentations in the report points out: “Journalists tend to devalue the attacks on themselves as a community and fail to speak out in one voice. We are fragmented ourselves.” Gauri Lankesh’s killing has led to calls from within the fraternity to overcome this and move ahead as a unified and purposive community. But even as these calls were doing the rounds in journalists’ groups, including social media groups, a number of pro-establishment journalists set forth to undermine this process through their sectarian and sensationalist behaviour.

One of the first tasks for any initiative that seeks to create a cohesive response to attacks against journalists is to build up a network and a system where information is collated and documented methodically from across the country in order to evolve multifaceted action plans that would have a decisive impact. The CPJ report focusses on the murder of 27 journalists, killed in direct retaliation for their work, that have taken place since 1992. A 2014 study by a Press Council of India member, Amarnath Konsuri, points out that as many 26 journalists were killed in the north-eastern States of India alone between 1992 and 2014. According to Konsuri, 25 journalists were killed while at work in Jammu & Kashmir during the same period.

While these are the figures for murdered journalists, NCRB data presented in Parliament in July 2017 list 142 cases of attacks against journalists in 2014 and 2015. Incidentally, the NCRB has been collecting data on attacks on journalists only since 2014. Uttar Pradesh is at the top of the NCRB data with 64 cases, followed by Madhya Pradesh (26) and Bihar (22). However, in Uttar Pradesh, only four arrests were made in these 64 cases while in Madhya Pradesh 42 arrests were made in 26 cases. Yet another report compiled by the media watchdog Hoot stated in May 2017 that there had been 54 attacks on journalists in India in the previous 16 months “mainly by lawmakers and law enforcers”.

A common aspect in the cases of killings and the attacks is the tardiness of investigations and the judicial process. There has not been a single conviction in any of these cases so far. Writing the foreword of the CPJ report, the senior journalist P. Sainath pointed out that one of the most conspicuous findings of the study was that “rural and small-town journalists are at greater risk of being killed in retaliation for their work than those in the big cities” and that “factors such as a journalist’s location, outlet, level in the profession’s hierarchy, and social background add to that risk”. He also noted that the Indian language journalists faced greater vulnerability because the language in which they wrote and, more importantly, what they wrote about challenged the powerful. He observed: “In the three case studies this report focuses on—and in CPJ’s list of 27 journalists who have been murdered in India since 1992—it is hard to find a single English-language reporter from a big city. That is, one who was working for an English outlet of a large corporate media house.”

Clearly, to develop a unified, cohesive and purposive response to attacks on journalists, the inbuilt discriminations and social and economic limitations within the profession need to be addressed. But, over and above these longstanding impediments and drawbacks, the most vile, vicious and immediate threat to journalists’ unity comes from the pro-establishment sections in the media, which spout communal and sectarian venom systematically, day after day.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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