It has been three days since two journalists from Kerala were arrested by the state police for allegedly "obstructing their duty." Ananthu Rajagopal Asha, an intern with Deccan Chronicle in Ernakulam, and Abhilash, a journalist with the online news website Newsport, were picked up by the police from the spot of a protest that they were reporting on.
On Sunday morning, the two journalists were reporting the distress of Dalit families in Bhajanamadam colony protesting against a ‘caste wall’ built by Nair Service Society (NSS). Just hours before, the police had pulled down a tent that the protesters had erected.
The police then arrested Ananthu and Abhilash, along with an activist. Even as the two journalists were granted bail by a lower court on Wednesday, there has been considerable anger against the police action.
Writer and activist Meena Kandasamy took to Facebook to demand that the two journalists be released.
While there is much anger against the police action, there is also considerable criticism of the silence of the media fraternity – especially mainstream media persons – on the arrest of the two journalists.
Apart from a few journalists working with online news portals, not many from the mainstream media have come out in support of Ananthu and Abhilash. And this has not gone unnoticed at all.
Ananthu's mother Asha Latha questioned this selective silence against the arrest of two journalists who lacked clout.
"Dear privileged media persons, the journalist with an online portal and the intern at a newspaper are both doing the same work you are doing. You people, who cry human rights violation when someone touches your fellow journalists, haven't heard that two 'lesser privileged' journalists have been remanded to judicial custody since the last three days? I didn't see any protest in your great paper and channels," Asha wrote, also coming down heavily on reports that reproduced the police allegation that the two journalists were Maoists.
Inju Pennu, a journalist with Global Voices Online, said in a Facebook post, "So in 'liberal' Kerala, if you are an "online" journalist, the 'print' journalists won't speak up if one of them is arrested by police on false charges, especially reporting caste violence. First because many on online media are not huge corporates, second they don't have the coveted press club memberships that require large amounts of money, third online media is doing some proper journalism provoking the State and its power."
Speaking to TNM, Ananthu's father Rajagopal said that the silence from people from the mainstream media as well as the journalists’ unions was "strange."
"We are in a field where our workplace is often not defined. This kind of treatment towards their arrest is may be because these two did not belong to big media houses. Otherwise, we have seen journalists and unions coming out against such actions on fellow journalists,” he said.
“I feel that the unions continue to treat the print medium as superior, and therefore online media isn’t considered at all. I also wonder whether there would have been support if a journalist from a less-known newspaper was treated this way," Rajagopal, who is a senior media person himself, added.
Rajagopal pointed out that while journalists from the print media have reached out to him personally, they are not ready to issue a statement on behalf of the union.
"As someone who has been working in the field for long, other journalists have reached out to me to enquire about the case. But this was purely on a personal level. While these same people are also representatives of the journalists union, they have largely stayed away from making a statement," Rajagopal said.
When TNM reached out to several members of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), some union members said they hadn't paid attention to the news of the two journalists' arrest.
Narayanan, general secretary of KUWJ state committee told TNM that none of the aggrieved parties have intimated the union about the issue.
"None of their organisations have reached out to us and informed us about the matter. In normal circumstances, police don't arrest reporters and photographers who are doing their work. If they do, then that is undoubtedly a wrong thing to do. But in this case, especially in the absence of complaint from the aggrieved parties, there is still no clarity on what happened. Did the reporters go there as reporters or as activists?" Narayanan asked.