“Media is the fourth pillar of democracy,” said Lord Macaulay.
Does this statement really hold true in today’s scenario? Well, the situation is now turning out to be just the opposite. Worldwide, reports are now not only being censored but journalists are also being thrashed and killed brutally. From Jamal Khashoggi to Gauri Lankesh, whoever spoke against the government and the society has been murdered, and crimes against the fearless journalists are on the rise.
Reporters without borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF), a Paris based non-governmental, a nonprofit organisation has been constantly monitoring these issues since 2002. The ‘World Press Freedom Index’ compiled by RSF, an annual report, is an indicator of how “hatred against journalists has degenerated into violence in countries across the world.” It is based on an evaluation of media freedom, and “measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework, and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It also includes indicators of the level of media freedom violations in each region.”
The 2019 report suggested a degrading position of journalism and media worldwide with India (who debuted in 2003) at the 140th position, Norway being the topper, and Vietnam and China coming in last.
“India’s journalists are being attacked online as well as in the field. All those who dare to criticise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist ideology online are branded as “anti-Indian” scum who must be purged,” read the RSF report.
The 2019 report went on to say that “In India (currently at the 140th spot, two positions down from the previous report), at least six journalists were also killed while trying to work in 2018.” This tragic toll was accompanied by an increase in violence coming from all quarters, including the security forces, organised crime, and political activists.
Murder is the highest form of censorship. Gauri Lankesh, the Editor-in-chief of Lankesh Patre, Shujaat Bukhari who was a Kashmiri journalist, Naveen Nishal , K.M Basher and many like them were threatened and killed because of their different ideologies that of government and society.
Naveen Nischal, who was working with Dainik Bhaskar was murdered on March 25, 2018. His death was a big slap to our so-called sophisticated Indian society the reason being he was reporting against child marriage in Arrah, Bihar. Journalists who simply write against government policies and criticise their work are very easily given the title ‘anti-nationalist’ and are under constant threat of retaliation.
The lack of constructive criticism is also a factors for India’s dismal position in the Fress Freedom Index. The recent abrogation of Article 370 and little-to-no allowance of ground-level reporting from Kashmir paralysed the media further. Kashmiri journalists have broken their silence on the more than a month-long communication blockade in the Valley, saying in a statement, “Journalists have been crippled, overwhelmingly disabling them from reporting the ground situation.” This statement had been issued by the Srinagar-based Kashmir Press Club in October.
A spokesman said the press club had on several occasions requested the government to restore phone and internet connections of journalists and media outlets, but that.” For about a week after the blockade was enforced, print media journalists had no formal way to file their reports. Then, a media facilitation center was set up with one internet connection. The Diplomat reported that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom watchdog, released its annual 2018 Global Impunity Index ranking “states with the worst records of prosecution. India ranked 14th on the list with 18 murders of journalists with impunity from 2008 to 2018. India has been listed on the Index 11 times.”
The CPJ observed that conditions had “worsened” in India in 2018. Three journalists were murdered for their work in 2018 alone: Navin Nischal of Dainik Bhaskar, Sandeep Sharma of News World, and Shujaat Bukhari of Rising Kashmir.
When not affected by violence or murder, journalists are being slapped with hefty civil defamation suits, like the recent $1.35 billion claim by the Reliance Group against NDTV, an Indian news channel for its report on the lack of transparency in the Rafale jet deal between Reliance and their French counterpart. This tactic is often employed to intimidate reporters and harass them through legal fees.
NDTV’s Ravish Kumar who was recently awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award constantly gets threats because of his criticism of government policies. Virtual abuses and crimes are on an increase and YouTube comment sections are just filled with curses and abuses.
By comparing different sections of reporters, RSF found out that the crimes against women and journalists engaged in local reporting are under constant threats of varied nature.
The #MeToo movement also gave us a picture of the sexual harassment that women journalists face. Rana Ayyub, a journalist and the author of “Gujrat Files” faced the worst kind of harassment. She was not only faced agitation but a doctored pornographic video of her was also circulated.
Also, the media is being heavily censored by the government and often find their access to official events restricted. Furthermore, there is a significant rise in internet shutdowns across the country, increasing to 77 in 2017 against 31 in 2016.
Since 2015, as many as 142 attacks against journalists have been registered in the country, according to data available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
Talking about justice meted out by Indian judiciary, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim on January 11, 2019, was convicted and given life imprisonment for killing journalist Ram Chandra Chattrapati in 2002 who had exposed the rapes that Ram Rahim was involved in. Other than this major breakthrough most of the cases are still pending in courts.
But, as Walter Lippmann said, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil,” the real journalists are still doing their work with great enthusiasm and are not ready to compromise ideals of democracy. Still, as the biggest democracy in the world, we should be ready to receive constructive criticism and should protect the people who are risking their lives to tell us the reality.