A press conference and a panel discussion was organised by the Delhi Union of Journalists on the condition of journalists working in Chhattisgarh. It was attended by a good number of journalists from different streams of media. This year, a good number of journalists had been arrested by the state police and sent to jail on various charges, including supporting Maoist activities, as widely reported by many newspapers and other media agencies.
Prabhat Singh, a journalist who worked in Bastar district in Chhattisgarh was arrested on charges of trespassing and extortion for investigating the school exam scam. Moreover, he was also booked under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act (2000). He is now out on bail after spending three months in jail.
He was also present at the event and shared his experience. He said, “There are two types of journalists working in Chhattisgarh. One is working in accordance with the local administration and had been reporting on Maoists violence/killings and had showed the government in a nice light, including, justifying the CRPF killing of innocent villagers and the rape of numerous tribal women by them. The other, who have been trying to investigate such CRPF brutalities and fake encounters are being threatened, bribed and finally, being sent to jail. They are trying to silence the voice of independent journalists.”
A senior journalist Saba Naqvi also expressed her concern over the same. She said, “After such reports came out, I went to Chhattisgarh and personally met the Chief Minister Raman Singh regarding the same. He assured me that he will look into the matter and no harm will be done to any journalists.”
One of the organisers of the conference, Mahtab Alam, also added, “A committee was formed to investigate the matter. Three months have already passed, but the committee has not been able to even hold a meeting.”
Sujata Madhok, journalist and General Secretary, DUJ, also suggested, “The protection of journalists in conflict areas like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, areas in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir is very essential. Journalists should have the independence to write and report freely and fearlessly.” She further added, “Many media houses don’t have their own reporters in such conflict areas and they all largely depend on such small journalists who are based in those remote areas and help us to get the right information from time to time. But these local reporters are kept on a contract basis which varies from fifteen days to one month. If anything happens to them, they don’t show any accountability to their contract employees.”
Prabhat Singh was working with ITV news as a reporter before being arrested by police. He said, “I joined on March 5, and on March 19, I received a mail from the state bureau that I was terminated without any prior information. After two days, when the local police got to know that I was no longer a journalist, they arrested me.”
On the conditions of contract-based stringers and reporters based in remote areas, Saba Naqvi said, “It’s a group of stringer networks that send us news from deep inside the forest with bare minimum facilities. Their news matters a lot to us, but their employer accountability is nil. As a result, such incidents are happening.”
The panel discussion ended with a consensus of ensuring protection to all the journalists working independently with a note, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”