Not a day passes without the ruling establishment swearing by Free Speech and reiterating its commitment to stand by the Fourth Estate in its efforts to strengthen democracy. In spite of this, the sabotage of bona fide journalistic activities and the mindless killing of scribes continue. Two recent incidents: the brutal attack on journalists by groups of lawyers in Bangalore on March 2; and the cold-blooded murder of a senior investigative journalist, his wife, and their two teen-aged children in Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh on February 18.
The attack on the Bangalore journalists left 60 persons injured. It happened when former Karnataka Minister G. Janardhana Reddy was brought to the CBI Court amid tight security in connection with a case of illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh. The journalists were in court to cover the proceedings against the mining baron. Reports said the lawyers' attack on journalists was in protest against the media's “negative coverage” of the advocates' “road roko” agitation on January 18, which paralysed traffic in the metropolis. The journalists complained that the police “played a passive role” all through the attack.
The murder of Chandrika Rai, a freelance journalist who exposed the mining mafia of Madhya Pradesh, and his family sent shock waves across the State. Rai had been consistently fighting illegal coal mining at great risk to himself and his family. Living about 450 kilometres from Bhopal and witnessing the illegal activities in scores of coalfields from close quarters, he contributed a series of articles to Navbharat, a Hindi daily from Bhopal, and The Hitavada, a Nagpur-based English daily with editions in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In some articles, he seems to have highlighted the involvement of a prominent local leader of the ruling BJP.
First reports linked the beastly crime to the journalist's consistent fight against the mining mafia. The Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, Ajay Singh, threw the blame on the mafia, which, he believed, resorted to the horrific crime “to silence the power of his [Rai's] pen.” The district police, however, has brought in two more possible motives for the crime: Rai's reported comment on the police action against the kidnapping of a government official's seven-year-old son, and a reported land dispute between Rai and a “local individual.” All this points to an attempt to drag on the investigation, which would be to the advantage of the real culprits. The Union of Madhya Pradesh Working Journalists has justifiably demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Although the murder of the Rai family was no less shocking than the killing last year of the investigative journalist Jyotirmoy Dey, who covered Mumbai's underworld, media coverage of the former appears woefully inadequate. The common factor is journalists taking on hardened criminals. In the J. Dey case, nothing much has taken place so far. The only recent development in the case was the filing of the charge sheet against the Mumbai-based journalist Jigna Vora on February 21. According to the police, “professional rivalry” could have led to the murder of J. Dey. However, they are yet to find a credible motive for the murder. It will be no surprise if the case in respect of the Rai family ends up similarly.
A promise not kept
The Maharashtra Government is yet to deliver on its assurance made last year in the wake of J. Dey's murder that it would come out with an Act to protect journalists against deadly attacks. K. K. Katyal, president of the South Asia Media Commission's Indian Chapter, has called on the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry to evolve effective steps in collaboration with the Home Ministry to protect vulnerable journalists. Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju's prompt and sharp responses to media-related problems will also go a long way in finding appropriate solutions.
According to a study by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 864 working journalists have been killed in different countries during the last two decades. India is one of 13 risk-prone countries where civilians, including journalists, fall victim to attacks in war zones and other trouble-prone areas. Such attacks have claimed the lives of 27 persons in India, 20 of them journalists from Assam, since 1992. Iraq, Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines are some of the other countries that come under the ‘risky' category, in which governments fail to solve the crimes. In most such cases, justice eludes the victims.