Following attack on The Times of India building, they seek a law protecting journalists

Condemning the recent attack on The Times of India building here, journalists and heads of media associations on Friday called for a law against such violence on journalists and media houses.

At a protest organised at Azad Maidan, the Patrakar Halla Virodhi Kruti Samiti (Committee against attacks on journalists) announced that an agitation would be held in New Delhi on May 1.

Last Saturday, Shiv Sena workers ransacked the lobby of the ToI building to protest an article on Sena MP Anandrao Adsul. The article in the Marathi daily, Maharashtra Times, had speculated that Mr. Adsul was likely to join the Nationalist Congress Party.

“We have to go to Delhi with our demands. One suggestion is to stage a dharna before the Prime Minister's residence. It's no use appealing to the State government. In the last 10 years, 36 media houses have been attacked and 90 per cent of them have been perpetrated by political parties and their supporters. No party is an exception to this. But we won't be cowed down by such attacks. We are and will continue to report the truth fearlessly. On May 1, Chalo Dilli,” PHVKS convenor S.M. Deshmukh said.

All the media heads expressed frustration at the continuing inaction and apathy of the State government.

While Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan has promised to push for a Bill to protect journalists in the Cabinet, his appointment of State Industries Minister Narayan Rane to the law formulation panel is viewed with suspicion.Mr. Rane was one of the ministers who opposed the Bill at the meetings, the journalists said.

“If the Chief Minister appointed Mr. Rane as the head, his intentions are suspect,” said Nikhil Wagle, Editor of IBN Lokmat, whom Shiv Sainiks have routinely targeted since 1991, the latest attack being in 2009.

“We cannot expect them [political leaders] to make the law as they are themselves behind the attacks. I don't want to ask Narayan Rane, [Sena chief] Bal Thackeray or [Deputy Chief Minister] Ajit Pawar. Political parties are afraid that they will be inconvenienced if the law is brought into effect,” Mr. Wagle said.

He called for taking up the issue with the national leadership and with international journalists' associations.

“There have been 212 cases of attacks on journalists and media houses in the last two-and-a-half years. Eleven journalists have been murdered in the last ten years. When I told this to [former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu] N. Ram, he was shocked. Our camerapersons in mofussil areas have had their cameras broken and burnt. The government will not wake up till Maharashtra finds a mention in a report of the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The journalists in Maharashtra are not afraid to do their job without fear or favour,” Mr. Wagle said.

Surendra Gangan, president, Mantralay and Vidhi-Mandal Vartahar Sangh (Association of State Secretariat journalists) said Mr. Chavan always gave the same empty assurances.

“When we met him recently he promised strong action against the perpetrators and to bring in the law. He gave the same assurance a year ago when journalist J. Dey was murdered. Ministers in the Cabinet opposed the Bill when it was brought in. We have to compel the government to act. We have to think of new ways to agitate without falling for such assurances,” Mr. Gangan said.

Senior journalist Jatin Desai said the high number of attacks on the media was shameful for Maharashtra, which is considered a progressive State. The committee formed to look into media attacks became a toothless body over time as the government started to induct members who would safeguard its interests.

Mr. Desai said he had spoken to Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman, Press Council of India, after the TOI attack. “Mr. Katju has written to the Chief Minister. He said he would be visiting Mumbai soon to review the situation in Maharashtra and the measures taken by the government.”

The journalists' bodies have two key demands — one, making attacks on journalists a non-bailable offence, and two, fast-tracking of such cases.

Maharashtra Times Editor Ashok Panvalkar, in whose paper the article in question was printed, said questions were asked about the responsibility of the media and the need to bring in a code of conduct. “Yes, journalists should be responsible, but that does not mean they should be attacked,” he said.

Sarang Darshane, Maharashtra Times Assistant Editor, said there was a consensus among political parties to create an atmosphere of terror in the media community. It was, therefore, necessary for media persons to come together and form a pressure group and demand answers. The government is simply dilly-dallying on the new law.

“News of the many attacks in small towns does not even reach Mumbai. Today it was us, tomorrow it can be [somebody else]. The frequency of such attacks is increasing. We have to come together irrespective of our affiliations to the media we work for. Fearless journalism is our only identity. Threat to freedom of the press is linked with threat to democracy,” Mr. Darshane said.

Protestors displayed placards and shouted slogans condemning the attack. “Sometimes, the truth is bitter; but don't shoot the messenger,” said the Mumbai Press Club banner.

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