Pressing For Freedom: Indian Journalists Are Operating Out Of Fear
Updated: Feb 23, 2022
Journalist Mahadev Nayak had published reports about the sarpanch, Aranya Nayak of Korua panchayat, stating that he had violated COVID-19 protocol. The sarpanch, while in quarantine, was provided food and clothes daily by his family, which was in contact with the others in the village. On 23 May 2020, Mahadev Nayak was held hostage at a temporary medical centre and his belongings, including his phone, a gold chain and cash of Rs 10,000 were taken away from him.
This is only one example of the power exerted by authorities when journalists, primarily those who work with regional publications, report news that attempts to keep those in power in check. The highest number of attacks in the media persons was reported from Uttar Pradesh (11 journalists), followed by Jammu & Kashmir (6 journalists), Himachal Pradesh (5), four each in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, two each in Punjab, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh & Kerala and one each in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Nagaland and Telangana as given below. Out of 180 countries, Reporters Sans Border has ranked India at 142 in the Press Freedom Index, 2021. In response to the ranking, the Niti Aayog published an article which said “The UNESCO in 2012 had defined journalists as “people who observe, describe, document and analyze events and document and analyze statements, policies and any proposal that may affect society, in order to systematize that information and gather facts and analysis to inform the sectors of the society or the society as a whole6.” RSF should update its definition of press accordingly and account in its ranking methodology for differences between print, electronic and TV journalists, and social media commentators.” Though this ranking is disputed by the ruling party, there have been several instances which prove that the press freedom in India is in fact, in danger.
Absolute press freedom is not desirable, or possible due to factors such as advertising influence and the inherent desire for profit. However, all the restrictions and external pressure that are imposed to maintain order, must ideally be kept at a bare minimum.
Another factor that hinders freedom of the press is the fact that most publications are largely owned by very few conglomerates, which in turn leads to the propagation of beliefs which are held by the parent company. On the flip side, a state owned publication would be far more harmful to our democracy than the current capitalistic model is.
The downfall of journalism begins with the imposition of severe restrictions which make critical, informed and in certain cases, courageous journalism, especially that which comes from independent portals or journalists, impossible. Apart from this, through torture, murders and attacks, not only by the state but also the rich and powerful, fear is instilled into journalists. According to The Wire, “The fate of the press is bound up with the fate of democracy. and in any type of State the press will have to fight harder to justify its existence against competition and encroachments of many kinds.”
Since 2014, when BJP came into power, there have been increased instances of harassment of journalists and activists. This comes in the name of Sedition charges or often, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). UAPA allows the police to arrest and detain a person on the basis of a mere suspicion of ‘anti-national’ activities or inctiement of terrorism. The arrest of people through speculation can and has been misused on multiple counts by the state. Reporters Sans Borders, in a report, stated, “In 2020, the government took advantage of the coronavirus crisis to step up its control of news coverage by prosecuting journalists providing information at variance with the official position. The situation is still very worrying in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries and must cope with utterly Orwellian content regulations, and where media outlets are liable to be closed, as was the case with the valley’s leading daily, the Kashmir Times.”
In 2020, four journalists in India were killed with their work in 2020, which makes India one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists who are attempting to make a difference and expose people who, in quest for their own greed, harm other people. In 2015, an environmental journalist named Jagendra Singh, who worked for a hindi daily and had reported on Uttar Pradesh Minister Rammurti Singh Verma’s alleged links to corruption and illegal mining. His reportage has been speculated to be the reason why he was set on fire by local policemen and criminals allegedly under the directions of the said minister.
Journalism is a profession which requires courage, more so when one has lesser power and riches but more influence on a vote bank, such as with regional media in the country. The Wire and Newslaundry may be voicing their concerns freely, without as much concern for their lives as those who work with regional media. While the effort of such portals and independent journalists is to be lauded, the hard truth remains that in terms of influence on people who can make a change through the democratic process of voting, they remain inconsequential.
Staff, T. W. (2021, April 20). “Dangerous Country for Journalists”, India’s Press Freedom Rank is 142, IT Rules Make it Worse. The Wire. https://thewire.in/media/dangerous-country-for-journalists-india-ranks-142-on-world-press-freedom-index
Deciphering the World Press Freedom Index | NITI Aayog. (2021, January 1). Niti Aayog. https://www.niti.gov.in/index.php/deciphering-world-press-freedom-index
Chakma, S. (2020, September 23). India: Media’s Crackdown During COVID-19 Lockdown. Rights & Risks Analysis Group. http://www.rightsrisks.org/banner/india-medias-crackdown-during-covid-19-lockdown-2/
Editorial. (2021, November 9). UAPA against lawyers, journalists in Tripura is part of playbook of state heavy-handedness. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/tripura-uapa-journalists-7613796/