Unabating attacks on journalists

There is an urgent need to enact laws that protect mediapersons and provide accountability

Updated - November 17, 2020 01:15 am IST

Published - November 17, 2020 01:00 am IST

 Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari.

Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari.

Isravel Moses, a 26-year-old television journalist who reported on illegal encroachment of land and sale of ganja, was hacked to death in Nallur village in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu on November 8. Four persons who attacked him were later arrested. The same day, another journalist, 35-year-old Syed Adil Wahab, was found brutally murdered in a jungle on the outskirts of Bhopal.

Earlier on June 14, 2018, Shujaat Bukhari, a prominent journalist from Kashmir and the Chief Editor of Kashmir Times, was shot dead by three militants in the heart of Srinagar, when he was returning home from office. His manifest views on bringing peace to the Valley did not go well with militants.

Such attacks on journalists who dare to expose corruption and misdeeds of anti-social elements, or who do not toe the line of the establishment, have proved to be a threat to journalists the world over.

Unfortunately, India has been going down on the World Press Freedom Index during the last few years. In the annual reports of Reporters Without Borders, India has steadily gone down in the global index from a rank of 138 in 2018 to 140 in 2019, and further down to 142 this year.

According to the United Nations, “Journalism is one of the most dangerous professions in the world”. Between 2006 and 2019, over 1,200 journalist have been killed the world over. On an average, it is estimated that one journalist is killed every four days. Sadly, in just one out of every ten such cases, the killers get convicted, while the rest go scot-free.

In 2009, as many as 32 journalists were killed in Philippines; ten were killed in Afghanistan in 2016, and ten journalists were among those killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul in April 2018.

A report released by an NGO last year states that 40 of the 198 journalists attacked in India between 2014 and 2019 died due to the attack. The killing of journalists is more rampant in smaller towns, while the figures in metro towns are quite low. It is cases like the killing of journalists such as the late Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru in 2017, that draw much country-wide attention and impel the police to investigate the murder.

Low convictions

Considering the rising trend in the number of journalists killed each year, the Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, counselled the government “to enact a special law for protection of journalists and speedy trial of cases of attacks and assaults”. The PCI’s records indicate that 96% of the cases of attacks on journalists end up without conviction.

That there is a need for stringent laws to protect journalists hardly calls for emphasis. Towards this end, Maharashtra has emerged as the first State in the country to enact a law. Under the Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017, any attack on journalists would be non-bailable and cognisable, and would be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Conviction under this Act could lead to imprisonment of up to three years and/or fine of up to ₹50,000. The attacker will also have to compensate for medical treatment in case of injuries to the journalist and also pay for damage to any equipment.

Taking a cue from the Maharashtra law, Chhattisgarh is in the final stages of enacting a law known as Chhattisgarh Protection of Mediapersons Act. It has a wider definition of journalists, covering drivers, and even relatives of journalists. On conviction, the attacker would be liable to be punished under relevant sections of the IPC. But any public servant found guilty of dereliction of duties is liable to be punished with imprisonment of up to one year and/or fine of up to ₹10,000.

While these two States have taken the initiative to enact laws to protect journalists, other States have to follow. The sooner it is done , the better.

M.P. Nathanael retired as Inspector-General of Police, CRPF

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