Journalists under threat - India

Dismal record of prosecuting those who kill journalists in India

Relatives of journalist Gauri Lankesh mourning her death in Bangalore in September last year. In the first six months of this year, four journalists were killed, compared with three in the whole of last year in India.
Relatives of journalist Gauri Lankesh mourning her death in Bangalore in September last year. In the first six months of this year, four journalists were killed, compared with three in the whole of last year in India.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has designated Nov 2 as the International Day To End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists. It has also launched a global #TruthNeverDies campaign and with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, urges news publishers worldwide to raise awareness of journalist killings and the cases where those responsible went unpunished. The Straits Times looks at conditions in Pakistan and India, which rank 9th and 14th respectively on a list of 14 countries identified by the Committee to Protect Journalists where such impunity is entrenched.

Two journalists were killed in India within 24 hours of each other this week, highlighting the issue of safety for those who risk their lives to cover stories in the South Asian country.

Mr Chandan Tiwari, 32, had told police in April that he received a death threat after writing reports on irregularities in a government affordable housing scheme in the central state of Jharkhand.

On Monday, Mr Tiwari, who worked for Hindi language newspaper Aj in the Jharkhand capital Ranchi, was abducted by unidentified men and brutally beaten. He died from his injuries. Police said they are investigating to see if the killing was related to his stories.

Just a day later, a cameraman working for government channel Doordarshan was killed while covering election preparations in the state of Chhattisgarh.

Mr Achyuta Nanda Sahu and two police constables died after being attacked by Maoist rebels.

India has more than 400 news and current affairs TV channels as well as dozens of English, Hindi and regional language newspapers and news websites, many with a tradition of aggressively pursuing stories. Yet safety of journalists has emerged as a major concern, with India slipping from 136 in the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index last year to 138 this year. The index of 180 nations measures the level of media freedom.

"Journalists in India have always worked in a tough environment, facing a variety of threats, from political pressure and self-censorship to defamation suits and physical attacks and murders. But it's certainly true that they are facing unprecedented levels of harassment and intimidation," said Ms Aliya Iftikhar, Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), via e-mail.

Said Ms T. K. Rajalakshmi, a journalist with news magazine Frontline and president of the Indian Women's Press Corps: "Overall there is a lot of insecurity around."

"There is always a potential threat of rubbing vested interests, like the illegal mining mafia, the wrong way in our profession. There is conflict-related violence which is confined to certain parts of the country.

"There is also a certain level of intolerance towards journalists. Journalists were called 'presstitutes' by a senior minister and there was hardly any condemnation in government."

The term was used by Minister of State for External Affairs V. K. Singh.

In the first six months of this year, four journalists were killed, compared with three in the whole of last year.

Mr Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, was shot dead as he left his office in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, on June 14.

On March 26, Mr Sandeep Sharma, who had been investigating illegal sand mining, was run over by a garbage truck in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.

On March 25, sub-editors Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh at the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar were run over by a sport utility vehicle in Bihar state.

Reporters Without Borders detailed these deaths and how attempts were made on at least three other journalists, noting that "abuses... have increased sharply" this year.

The report said this included "online hate campaigns and harassment by armies of trolls that promote the Hindutva doctrine".

Hindutva is an ideology originating from Hindu nationalism.

Hindu groups are seen as having become more confident since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

One of the most high-profile killings was that of Ms Gauri Lankesh, a respected journalist and editor of a Kannada-language newspaper who was shot outside her Bangalore home in September last year. She had published reports critical of Hindu right-wing groups and the Indian caste system.

Her death, for which three men with links to a member of a hard-line Hindu group were arrested, led to country-wide protests seeking justice for Ms Lankesh and security for other journalists.

A key problem is the impunity of those targeting the media.

The CPJ reported that 48 journalists have been killed in India since 1992. It added that the country has the 14th worst record in prosecuting the killers, noting that 18 of the cases remain unsolved.

"This is an issue that does not get talked about. It shows that the authorities are not serious about pursuing cases involving journalists and sending out a message," said Dr N. Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media Studies. "This impacts freedom of the press."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2018, with the headline 'Dismal record of prosecuting those who kill journalists'. Print Edition | Subscribe