Dark times

BY The Hoot| IN Media Freedom | 18/07/2010
In less than twenty days of this month there have been six assaults on journalists and one arrest in Manipur, Kerala, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Orissa and Delhi.
The worrying question is what does the increase in violence signify? A HOOT editorial.

Shiv Sainiks attacked the Zee 24 television office in Kolhapur late on Friday night (July 16),  injured people and destroyed furniture, while a live telecast of a debate on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute was on.

Earlier the same day RSS workers vandalized the TV Today office and the mayhem played endlessly on Headlines Today,  its sister channel Aaj Tak, and several other news channels through the rest of the day.  Prominent journalists in Delhi were interviewed and gave suitably outraged quotes, other channels chipped in with empathetic coverage.

As it happens it was the seventh attack on members of the media this month. In less than twenty days there have been assaults and one arrest in Manipur, Kerala, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Orissa and Delhi. Not all these incidents  get the kind of coverage that would register on the  country’s consciousness. The attacks come from the  police and security forces on one hand,  and from mobs or miscreants on the other.

On July 1 a journalist was abused and attacked by unidentified persons in  Bhubaneswar. Suryamani Mishra, a journalist working with Oriya daily Khabar, in Bhubaneswar, was walking home at night after his duty when two people attacked and abused him. He had been  writing against communal issues, the  land scam and the builder mafias.

On July 2nd in Imphal  Yumnam Ibomcha, a staff reporter of a local daily, was beaten up by paramilitary troopers in the Collector's office in Imphal West district on Wednesday.  Ibomcha said that he had gone to the collector's office when he learnt that diesel permits issued to the farmers were being triplicated in view of the acute shortage of fuel in Manipur. After identifying himself, he sought some details. However, two troopers punched and kicked him. The Commandant of 1st Manipur Rifles told The Hindu that one trooper of his battalion had been suspended from service. and disciplinary action initiated.

On July 4, Kerala police arrested T.P. Nandakumar, editor of the Crime news magazine, in on the charge of publishing offensive and defamatory material against a Non-Resident Indian businessman onthemagazine’s online edition.They also arrested a sub-editor of the magazine, Raju Hariharan, on the charge of uploading the allegedly defamatory material on to the Internet from a computer at his house in Pala. Both were granted bail, but cases have been registered against them under the amended IT Act.

On July 6, twelve photojournalists were injured  in Srinagar when police and paramilitary forces used force to prevent them from taking pictures at Firdousabad, Batamaloo. Witnesses said the police and troopers thrashed them. This was followed by a ban on media movement when curfew passes were cancelled.

 

On July 13: Indian Rserve Battalion police attack three journalists, including a woman journalist, in two separate incidents, while covering the rath yatra in Bhubaneswar.   An ETV woman journalist was molested and a cameraman assaulted by Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) personnel while covering the ISKCON rath yatra.

 

The Delhi attack on July 16 was triggered by Headlines Today’s story on saffron terror. TV Today's Hindi channel Aaj Tak had recently reported the alleged links of some RSS activists to Mecca Masjid blast accused. They had even done a sting operation on senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar.

 

Meanwhile in Orissa on July 16 media people boycotted the Orissa Assembly  as protest against the apathy of the State Government towards rising attacks on the media in Orissa. As recorded above, there have been two incidents of attacks on journalists in the state this month.

The worrying question is what does the increase in violence signify?  A growing intolerance in an increasingly violent country which turns on all sections of society including journalists?  Or a sharp loss of esteem for the profession? Or a gut response to the immediacy of television, and a corresponding vulnerability in a lawless country, where neither the police nor politicians nor their henchmen follow any rules?

Violence against the media is not new but its growing frequency is alarming. As the sector and its influence grows, as the media takes it upon itself to expose wrong doers, people are responding with fists and guns. And the government is both passive and complicit.

The Hoot set up its Free Speech Hub in March this year  because of a growing conviction that the media, writers and creative people are increasingly under attack or pressure. We did not think it would come to seven incidents a month, for journalists alone. In addition, this month has seen a ban on a book, and a fiat from Bal Thackeray to  FM channels to play Marathi music within seven days or face the music!

Now that  the documentation is there, how should we respond to it?   Journalists’ bodies like the Editors Guild, and journalist unions  need to send a fact finding team to each incident  that happens to try and establish which causes are at work. And then take the evidence to the government and political parties to rein in their employees and supporters. We need to  peacefully boycott functions. We should also respond by looking inward to see if our coverage is responsible and fair. Is the professional behaviour above board in each case? Where defamation is alleged is it a justified allegation?

By highlighting the violence, not just when it happens in our neighbourhood but also when it surfaces in faraway Manipur or Kalinganagar. By insisting that publications give every media person including stringers valid press cards that could give them some protection.

And civil society needs to wake up and be heard on this issue.  For a country with a huge non governmental sector there is precious little activism on issues concerning the media. The latter has many warts, but if it has no freedom to function India will be a worse place to live in than it is today.

 

 

 

 

 

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