By Lata Jha:Â
A clichÃ© it may well be, but that the press is ‘free and empowered to advocate and promote issues of importance in India’ is something we’ve heard for as long as we can possibly remember. An important phenomenon of the past decade has been the growth of technology oriented and citizen journalism, where people with objectives entirely different from the mainstream media have found a voice in discussing these issues. With the sad advent of corporatization and commercialisation, one has also seen the birth of courageous and feisty journalism. Also, instances as disparate and wide ranging as 9/11 and the Arab Spring have demonstrated the impact of modern technology, which transmits information and images within seconds and aids global connectivity and response.
An equally important phenomenon of the past decade has been the threat journalists face because of their access to and impact on events having grown by such leaps. As we celebrated the World Press Freedom Day a little over a month ago, it was ironic as we realized that we had witnessed possibly the highest number of violations against journalists in less than six months into this year.
A Kannada newspaper, Karavali Ale, was the target of attack in Surathkal. Distribution of the newspaper was disrupted as they covered criminal activities and hollow claims of development made by the local MLA of the area for a substantial amount of time. In February, a staffer of the newspaper, Harish Puthran, faced physical assault for his reportage on links between certain Hindu fundamentalist groups and the local drug mafia.
In February, Nemichand Jain, a journalist from the vernacular press in Chhattisgarh was killed by the Maoists who also took complete responsibility for the murder, saying he was a police informer. The police are still investigating the case after the Maoists apparently apologised following a boycott of the reportage of issues concerning them by journalists in the area.
Journalists in Odisha have faced numerous attacks as well. Two journalists, Amitabh Patra and Lenin Ray, also the editor of a newspaper, were arrested while covering a protest by villagers against the Lower Suktel Dam in Balangiri district in Odisha. Journalists from the state report that police officers have walked away while members of the press were being beaten. Their indifference borders on callousness.
The Delhi gang rape, Maoist protests, defamation charges against online media coverage of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management or restrictions on the media of an entire state following the Afzal Guru hanging, the cases are way too many and the problems just as basic. We don’t take a minute to condemn the media for invasion of privacy and for overdoing the drama, but we extend no solidarity, sympathy or support to conscientious members of the same fraternity. Jyotirmoy Dey made headlines, but there are several others who languish in miserable obscurity for having dared to chase the truth.