27 जुल॰ 2015

What does the killing of 71 journalists tell us?

According to a report by Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) recently, a total of 71 journalists were killed between January to June this year in 24 countries, India being one of them. Another report by International Press Institute (IPI) tells that 100 journalists were murdered in 2014, while 120 in 2013. IPI has a section called, ‘Death Watch’ that lists those journalists and media staff who were deliberately targeted because of their profession - either because of their reporting or simply because they were journalists. The total count of such deaths since 1997 is close to 1500. 

If you thoroughly go through the report prepared by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), you will find that in 90% of such cases nobody has been punished. While the reasons of such deaths vary from war reporting to terrorism, in India most deaths are the result of their honest and investigative work in cases related to corruption. 

TV Journalist Akshay Singh is the most recent example whose autopsy is yet to ascertain the reason of his death, but by looking at the unending series of deaths in Vyapam scam, it's not too tough to connect the dots. Two others who were killed this year are Sandeep Kothari and Jagendra Singh. 

The burnt body of Sandeep Kothari, a local correspondent for a Jabalpur-based Hindi daily, was found near a railway track in Butibori area in Nagpur on June 20, 2015. According to police, Kothari, 40, was killed by individuals with connections to illegal mining in the area, a subject he had covered extensively. 

Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist who reported critically on politics and current affairs in Hindi-language newspapers, died from burn injuries too on June 8, 2015. While being treated in hospital for burns covering more than half of his body, Singh made a statement in which he said, it was police that set him on fire. 

If we go back to 2014, there are similar stories as well. Tarun Kumar Acharya who was found dead with his throat slit and injuries to his chest in Odisha on May 28, 2014. He had been threatened with death by the owner of a cashew processing plant in Khallikote, after Tarun published a report alleging child labor practices at the plant. The Hindu reported that the journalist was in possession of footage showing child laborers working under hazardous conditions.

MVN Shankar, a senior journalist with a Telugu daily 'Andhra prabha' was beaten to death while he was covering a story on the oil mafia on November 26, 2014. Just before his murder he had also done a story about corruption in the rice mill trade.

In all of the above cases least progress has been recorded when it comes to police investigation. According to the CPJ reports, in the last 25 years, 30% of the journalist killed in different regions of India were reporting on cases pertaining to corruption. AJournalist's life is always been on stake and in the recent times the situation has bittered; be it the case of Satlok Ashram of Rampal where many reporters and cameramen were beaten badly by the police; or the tale of Navin Soorinje who was arrested by the Karnatka Police and had to spend 4 and a half months behind the bars with similar charges levid on those fundamentalists who he captured on his camera while stirring up violence in a private birthday party. There have been cases where not just an individual journalist but even a media channel has been attacked. 

Albert Camus had said, "A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad."

According to a survey conducted by Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms in October, 2014, 80% of the Palestinian journalists were engaged in self-censorship, which means they don't write anything that can put their lives at risk. They don't write the truth despite the knowledge of it. Press doesn't have to be just 'free', it has to be 'fearless' too and until a democracy is unable to provide that kind of safety and security to its journalists, it's not a true democracy. India hasn't come to that worse yet. But if the cases of attacks on journalists and their murders go unsolved, such future won't be far.

Journalism is in jeopardy, and so is democracy.

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