Free press under attack in India: report


From blunt and brutal physical assault to sophisticated technical barriers – and the more insidious corporate threat from within – the Indian press and media has been under attack over the last year.

Several reports catalogued the threats on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday.

The Free Speech Hub, an initiative of The Media Foundation and its mediawatch website, has released its latest report tracking the attacks on journalists as well as policy measures that could endanger the freedom of speech and information in the country.

“Since January, one journalist has been killed, and there have been nine other attacks on journalists. There have been six instances of intimidation of journalists and writers, the blocking of 11 websites, telephone taps on political leaders and civil society activists, hate speech on Facebook, the social networking site, and censorship of books and film,” says the report.

It finds that Chhattisgarh and Orissa have been among the most difficult States to be a journalist. A Nai Dunia reporter was killed in Chhattisgarh in January, in a state where journalists are discouraged from reporting from areas of Maoist conflict. In Orissa, four attacks and two cases of intimidation have been the result of political clout in media, mining, business and education being pitted against ordinary, local people.

Corporate clout has been the source of media intimidation in other parts of the country as well, with an NDTV team allegedly being harassed by the Adani group while filming a story on mangrove destruction due to the company’s port in Gujarat.

Books and films facing the censor’s black pen caught the headlines this year, with Joseph Lelyveld’s controversial book on Mahatma Gandhi being banned by some States, but receiving succour from the Centre and the courts. Web censorship, on the other hand, often slips under the radar, but is causing disquiet among the internet community, with the Department of Information Technology blocking 11 websites in a non-transparent manner. The Rules under the IT Act which were notified last month include restrictive regulations against blogs and websites, and those who host or display them.

In another policy move, newspaper publishers worried that proposed amendments to the Press and Registration of Books Act would infringe on press freedoms.

There has been some good news as well, with the Supreme Court stating that being a Naxalite sympathiser or possessing Naxalite literature does not make one guilty of sedition, even as it granted bail to activist doctor Binayak Sen.

The Indian media is not alone in its fight. In a report titled “Free Speech in Peril”, the International Federation of Journalists in association with UNESCO, has documented the state of press freedom in the South Asian region. It finds that Pakistan may be the most difficult place to be a journalist, with media groups not inclined to invest in safety for their reporters despite the violence they face while doing their job, especially in Balochistan and northern Pakistan.

The emergence of conflict in Sri Lanka and Nepal also pose threats to their media, while the press in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Maldives face the challenge of covering countries in transition, moving from military rule, absolute monarchy and one-party rule respectively toward stable electoral democracies.

With regards to India, the IFJ report documents the trials of journalists working in conflict-ridden areas of Kashmir, the North-East and Maoist zones, but it also analyses the conflicts within. Focussing on the paid news controversies and the Niira Radia tapes, it shows how the ethical issues facing journalists, as well as media managers could be the biggest threat of all to the integrity of newsgathering in the country.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 12:33:51 AM |

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