RSF Report Construes India as the deadliest Country for Journalists in Asia
By Ishaal Zehra
The recent annual report of Reporters Without Borders says that India is the 3rd most dangerous nation for journalists… after Iraq and Syria. India is concluded to be the most dangerous Asian country for journalists in the year 2015, with nine reporters losing their lives during the last year only. The media watchdog commented that these deaths confirmed “India’s position as Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan”.
Only war-torn Iraq and Syria recorded the deaths of more journalists than India. Four of the nine Indian journalists murdered in the past year were killed “for still undetermined reasons”, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.
A total of 110 journalists were killed in connection with their work or for unclear reasons in 2015, and at least 67 were killed while reporting or because of their work, the report mentions. Indian journalists “daring to cover organized crime and its links with politicians have been exposed to a surge in violence, especially violence of criminal origin, since the start of 2015”, the report further say.
Besides India, the eight other countries where the most journalists were killed are Iraq (11), Syria (10), France (eight), Yemen (eight), Mexico (eight), South Sudan (seven), the Philippines (seven) and Honduras (seven).
Soon after the release of this report by Reporters Without Borders, the murders of journalists Rajdeo Ranjan in Bihar and Akhilesh Pratap Singh in Jharkhand within 24 hours of each other on 15 May 2016 substantiated the international report that named India as the deadliest nation for reporters and media personnel in Asia.
Since 1992, 64 journalists have been killed in India with reporters exposing corruption (includes both moral and financial), says a compilation by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Most of them died in smaller towns where graft is rampant and exposing it means earning the wrath of powerful politicians and industrialists. Last year, for example, freelance journalist Jagendra Singh was allegedly burnt alive by police and goons reportedly sent by Uttar Pradesh minister Ram Murti Verma in Shahjahanpur. The reason: Singh’s prominent coverage to the alleged rape of an anganwadi worker by Verma. Earlier this year, again, a group backed by the Chhattisgarh government forced journalists Malini Subramaniam and some lawyers out of the Maoist-affected Bastar region. Activists also said the state administration was muzzling free speech after three journalists were arrested on allegedly flimsy charges.
The poor record is primarily because of an absence of any mechanism to protect journalists. The Press Council of India (PCI) is virtually toothless with its recommendations not binding on any authority. “It’s a matter of grave concern that three journalists were killed in India in the last four months and another died in a tragic accident while on the line of duty,” said PCI chief justice (retd) Chandramouli Kumar Prasad.
A PCI report shows 96 % cases of journalists killing reported in the last two decades have not reached their logical conclusion. The cases have either dragged on in the courts or the investigation has hit a dead end. The PCI chief, in a statement, urged the government of India to enact a special law for protection of journalists and speedy trial of cases of attacks and assaults.
Anthony Bellanger, the General Secretary of IFJ also advocated the view saying, “Everyone who comes into contact with journalists need to respect their independence. It requires governments to comply with their international obligations by investigating journalists’ killings and bringing those responsible to justice”.
According to a press report only 14 percent of journalists live in countries with free press; the rest cannot freely report on political beat without government intrusion. The World Press faces a freedom crisis; in 2014 the Global Press Freedom was at its lowest. With growing political and terrorist threats a journalist is going through humanitarian crisis.
Last year 134 journalists were killed, with India on number four on the list of countries with maximum number of journalists dying of unnatural causes. 13 journalists were killed in India last year; most of them were shot dead. And this year nine Indian reporters were among 110 journalists killed around the world.
In its annual roundup, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said those nine journalists who had been murdered in India in 2015 were reporting on organized crime and its links with politicians and others for covering illegal mining. “Journalists were killed in the course of their work and their deaths confirm India’s position as Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan”.
“The inadequacy of the Indian authorities’ response is reinforcing the climate of impunity for violence against journalists,” the report said. “The 110 journalists killed this year need a response that matches the emergency. A special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for the safety of journalists must be appointed without delay,” it added.
Noting that it had urged the Indian government to establish “a national plan for protecting journalists”, the watchdog said, “a response that matches the scale of the threats to journalists is now essential.”
The RSF finally concludes by criticizing the Indian government for its indifference attitude towards the threats against journalists. It concludes saying; Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematized by various religious groups that are quick to take offence. At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists. Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials.
Maintaining the report by RSF, The Hoot.org has also compiled a list to highlight the vulnerability of working journalists in India, particularly those who work at the district level. Journalists in the country have faced 10 defamation cases, 26 attacks and six death threats since January 2016, says their report.
Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu – the three states have been particularly stated as worst for press freedom. “The greater vulnerability is for journalists in districts and small towns. One reason for this is that many of them are investigating local scams and they pose a threat to the powerful in government and in politics… There is no pressure group at the national level which maintains pressure on the central and state governments in cases regarding journalists. The Editors Guild and other bodies are not really proactive in this regard. The Press Council publishes reports, but unfortunately they have no impact,” says editor, The Hoot, Sevanti Ninan.