The predicament of journalists and media houses

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
The safety and security of journalist has never been a matter of serious concern for both India and media industries. Despite several journalists associations, serving journalists deployed in the areas of conflict and crisis across borders (North-East or Kashmir or North-West across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan) repeatedly demanding for the removal of impunity to the military, armed police and special armed constabulary, the Government’s apathy continues unabated. Recently International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in its report on “End Impunity in India” has written that the journalists association in India including IFJ affiliates, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and National Union of Journalists (India) have been expressing deep concern at the slow progress of investigation on killings of journalists. They have been demanding a separate law for the protection of journalists and speedy prosecution in case of murder. In 2015, the Press Council of India (PCI) recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation, an independent body, conduct investigation into the killings of journalists in 2016.The report added that journalists in rural areas and small towns, especially those working for regional language media are more vulnerable to intimidation and attack and even being killed for their works. Many take grave risks to expose crime and nexus between criminals and politicians. Geographical locations, class, caste and social network are as significant as job security and backing by the employer. Freelancers, stringers and those on precarious contract were more at risk and their killers more likely to get away with murder. Ironically, it is these intrepid freelance journalists and stringers who uncover major scams and corruption where corporate-backed media house fear to tread.
The spate of killings of reputed Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh of Bengaluru, KJ Singh (Punjab), Bhaumik Santanu and Sudip Datta Bhaumik (Tripura ) and Rajesh Mishra (Uttar Pradesh) has once again brought to the fore the stark realities of threats hanging over the lives of intrepid journalists who have shown a lot of courage to espouse the causes of truth. While these journalists did not die in cross firing across border of India, they fell to the bullets of mafia that operate in tandem with the local feudalists or capitalists or factionist groups catering to the political clouts in their respective areas of reporting. The unfortunate assassination of K.J Singh further heightened the magnitude of the crisis as his 92 year old mother was also eliminated during attempt to assassinate him. Despite all these happening, there is a tepid or lukewarm response both from Government and media-house, besides Indian Academy. There is the horrendous fact that every year India is losing not less than 10 to 15 precious lives of journalists, on average, mostly drawn from the conflict areas such as the North-East or Kashmir or the border areas in North-West, or from the Naxal-infested forest areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. But for playing the requiem in the last-post blare, the journalists who laid down their lives for the honor of the Nation or for a greater cause have not received any honors-either from the Government of India or from the agencies they work for. While the role of the Government of India in neglecting the “safety & security of journalists”, covering risk zone has been writ large for over decades since independence, the apathy in the private sector to provide safety and security to working journalists in risk zone is deplorably apparent. Another interesting dimension to this grossly neglected area is that no media organization carries out any protest campaign or movement, even if its own journalists are killed. It is true that the killing of journalists in India is very high compared with other countries in South-Asia and elsewhere. As rightly observed in the report of International Federation of Journalists in 2016, Uttar Pradesh is the most dangerous one followed by a number of other States in North-East (Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh), in the North (Kashmir,Himachal Pradesh and Punjab) and in North-West (Rajasthan). Among south Indian States, Karnataka registered a high incidence of the killing of working journalists followed by Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. More than urban-centric journalists, the rural stringers and freelancers face more risk to their life when they endeavor to report corruption in higher political circles. According to IFJ report in 2012, about 73 journalists have been killed since 2005 and 95 journalists were slain during 1990-2004. According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2016,”Getting Away with Murder: 2016 Global Impunity Index” in at least 40% of the cases, the victim reported receiving threats before they were actually killed. Neither the police nor the management of media houses has ever taken these matters seriously. This kind of apathy makes it all the more important for an imperative study of several dimensions involved in the indispensable “Security and safety of Journalist” reporting on sensitive matters such as crime, corruption and politics.

(To be contd)