Monday, May 08, 2017

The Hoot: Indian journos faced 54 attacks, 25 threats since Jan 2016; most stressed were investigative reporters

Indore district collector banning anti-demonetization stories
By Our Representative
In a compilation of attacks on the freedom of press in India, well-known media-watch site, “The Hoot” has said that in the 16 months for which it has collected data, from January 2016 to April 2017, as many as 54 attacks took place on journalists, apart from 25 were threats to journalists.
Based on media reports, the number of attacks and threats, believes “The Hoot”, should be “certainly bigger, because recently, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir said during question hour in the Lok Sabha that 142 attacks on journalists took place in 2014-15.”
It adds, “Though seven journalists were killed, reasonable evidence of their journalism being the motive for the murder is available only in one case.”
Pointing out that “stories behind each of the attacks reveal a clear and persistent pattern”, with investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous, "The Hoot" report states, “Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story, be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, an eviction drive, election campaigns, or civic administration corruption, are under attack.”
Attacks on journalists
It adds, “Leave alone going out into the field, those who host chat shows in the relative safety of a television studio or voice opinions on social media networks are also subjected to menacing threats, stalking and doxing.”
“The perpetrators”, according to the report, “are politicians, vigilante groups, police and security forces, lawyers (apart from the Patiala House court incident in Delhi in the wake of the JNU protests, there were a spate of attacks by lawyers in Kerala), jittery Bollywood heroes and, increasingly, mafias or criminal gangs that operate in illegal trades and mining, often under the protection of local politicians and with the knowledge of local law enforcing agencies.”
“Even with clear accusations of the identities of the perpetrators, they get away scot-free”, the report states, adding, “Law-makers and law-enforcers are the prime culprits in the attacks and threats on the media.”
Pointing out that the press “cannot be truly free when facilitating freedoms such as the Right to Information and the Right to Internet, and the freedom of expression of the creative community, are shrinking”, the report points to how district collector, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, imposed restrictions on ‘misleading’ posts on social media relating to demonetization” and the “censors” were “police, trolls, and right wing Hindu groups, who lodged complaints with the police.”
Threats to journalists
“The Internet was shut down 31 times in India in 2016 and 14 times already in 2017”, the report says, adding, “Twelve shutdowns in 2016 were as preventive action, as reactive action. In 2017, nine shutdowns were preventive action, and five were reactive action.”
The maximum number of internet shutdowns, 13, took place in Jammu & Kashmir, though other states were not far behind. Thus, in Haryana, it was shut down for nine times, in Rajasthan eight, and in Gujarat three. Other states which experienced shutdown were – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and North-Eastern states.
The attacks on freedom of speech happened, says the report, alongside the Supreme Court justifying criminal defamation law in May 2016, saying, “Right to free speech is not absolute. It does not mean freedom to hurt another's reputation which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution."
The report regrets, “There was dismay over a ruling which seemed to nullify efforts to decriminalize defamation.”

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