A fact-finding team, which visited Chhattisgarh two weeks ago to "verify and assess the threats and challenges faced by journalists in the State", has concluded that the media in Chhattisgarh were working under tremendous pressure.
The team, comprising of Editors Guild of India general secretary Prakash Dubey and executive committee member Vinod Verma, travelled to Jagdalpur, Bastar and Raipur areas of the State between March 13 and March 15 to assess the challenges to the profession of journalism in the State.
"Bastar division of Chhattisgarh is fast becoming a conflict zone. There is a constant battle on between the security forces and the Maoists. Journalists, caught in the middle, are under attack by both the State and non-state actors. Several incidents have been reported over the past few months of attacks on journalists. At least two, according to the reports, were arrested and imprisoned and others threatened and intimidated to a point where they had to leave Bastar for fear of their lives. The residence of at least one journalist, according to the information, was also attacked," the report said.
"The fact-finding team came to the conclusion that the media reports of threats to journalists are true. The media in Chhattisgarh is working under tremendous pressure. In Jagdalpur and the remote tribal areas, the journalists find it even more difficult to gather and disseminate news. There is pressure from the State administration, especially the police, on journalists to write what they want or not to publish reports that the administration sees as hostile. There is pressure from Maoists as well on the journalists working in the area. There is a general perception that every single journalist is under the government scanner and all their activities are under surveillance. They hesitate to discuss anything over the phone because, as they say the police listen to every word we speak," the report added.
The fact-finding report mentioned several instances where journalists were targeted in the State.
The fact-finding team could not find a single journalist who could claim with confidence that he or she was working without fear or pressure. The journalists — posted in Bastar and some working in Raipur — spoke of pressure from both sides.
All of them complained about their phone calls being tapped by the administration and being kept under undeclared surveillance.
The fact-finding team also found that this fear was not confined to the tribal areas alone. All the reporters working in Raipur also said that their telephones were being tapped.
‘They are seen as Maoist sympathisers’
The fact-finding report also commented on the situation of national and international media persons visiting Bastar.
"The journalists representing national or international media generally come from either Raipur, where they are generally posted or from the head offices like Delhi and Mumbai. Police and local administration dislike them the most because they ask many questions, insist on getting the facts and try to visit the affected areas. They are generally seen as Maoist sympathisers or pro-Maoists. According to a senior editor in Raipur, their reports seems pro-Maoist because they go inside and talk to the people and anything coming from the people usually contradicts the government’s version and hence it is labelled as pro Maoists or anti-government," said the report.
"Every journalist who is working in Bastar feels that he or she is not safe. On one hand they have to deal with Maoists who are becoming more and more sensitive about the reports appearing in the media and on the other hand, the police want the media to report as and what they want," concluded the fact-finding team's report.
A week after the fact-finding team's visit to the state, two journalists were arrested by the police from Dantewada district.