Flix Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 05:30
  In the wake of the gruesome deaths of two journalists in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, attention has been focused on physical threats. This has increased after the release of the Press Council of India’s report on the safety of journalists. While the bulk of the report focuses on the disturbing physical threats, the report also records – although unintentionally and inadequately – the equally disquieting conditions under which scribes across the country work. This latter part is rarely studied systematically – journalists can hardly report on their own working conditions. Deaths The sub-committee of the PCI interacted with around 1,200 journalists in 11 states. According to Annexure I of the report, of the 80 journalists’ deaths recorded, 65 percent are from six states. These could broadly be described as conflict zones – where the Indian military and police have been deployed in the name of insurgencies. Since 1990, Andhra Pradesh (12), Assam (19), Chhattisgarh (4), Jammu and Kashmir (10), Jharkhand (3), and Manipur (4) totally acccount for 52 deaths. See below for a break-up of the figures:   The figures may seem alarming at first glance – it’s a simple average of four deaths a year – but they are gross figures that do not look at causal factors. The PCI does not reveal the criteria used to record the deaths. Therefore, the list may have included journalists whose deaths may be unconnected with their profession, or even accidental. Making sense of the numbers In the north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh, the violent environment of the region was the primary concern for journalists. Along with Andhra Pradesh, these states accounted for 65 percent of deaths in the areas studied. Scribes in Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya said that they were victims of the politics of and violent exchanges between insurgents and the military. A similar situation was reported in the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In both Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east, the PCI sub-committee was told that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act needed to go. Other journalists, however, have different take on this demand. Senior journalist Subir Ghosh, who is researching the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) for a book and has also reported from the north-east, said that the three regions were not comparable in terms of the nature of the violence. AFSPA, which is in force in both the north-east and in Kashmir, would not significantly impact the working of journalists due to two main issues – everyday life in an area under AFSPA and working as a journalist covering events. Often, in both cases, journalists would be also be assaulted if some kind of violence erupted, he said. Some journalists told the sub-committee that journalists, especially photo and video journalists, should be given special jackets that clearly indicated that they were media personnel, so that security forces could not claim ignorance when things got ugly. Although the offer to provide “press jackets” was nice, Ghosh said that such jackets would be of little use because more than reporters, it was photojournalists who were targeted because of their conspicuous equipment. A Kashmiri journalist who requested anonymity also shared similar views. “In a society saturated with violence, journalists are no different from civilians. But yes, in rally that you cover where violence occurs, journalists who look non-Kashmiri are not beaten up, but we are often assaulted” he said. Chhattisgarh on the other hand, was a different case altogether. Journalists are fleeing Chhattisgarh, which happens nowhere else in the country, including Jammu and Kashmir and the northern-states where insurgent groups are present, Ghosh says. Killings are just one indicator On the overall number of deaths, Ghosh said that one needed to look into whether the journalists had died on the job. He said that the indices of international journalists’ advocacy groups such as Reporters Sans Frontiers and the Committee to Protect Journalists were more illuminating. “India has been ranked along with countries such as Iraq and other countries where conflict is rife,” Ghosh said. Reporters Sans Frontiers ranked India at 136 out of 180 countries in its Press Freedom Index 2015. This worse than the first PFI in 2002, when India stood at 80 out of 134 countries. RSF calculates the index on six indicators – pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and violence. The final score is calculated as a total of the individual scores of the above components and is therefore, a more nuanced indicator of the overall working environment for the media in any country. Its report for 2014, RSF said: “India (140th, +1) experienced an unprecedented wave of violence against journalists, with eight killed in 2013. They are targeted by both state and nonstate actors. Almost no region is spared but Kashmir and Chhattisgarh continue to be the only two where violence and censorship are endemic. Those responsible for threats and physical violence against journalists, who are often abandoned by the judicial system and forced to censor themselves, include police and security forces as well as criminal groups, demonstrators and political party supporters.” RSF’s ranking, Ghosh says, shows how bad it is. “Journalists on the ground face hostile situations from state and non-state forces. Killings are just one indicator. Just because people are not dying (elsewhere in the country) doesn’t mean that nothing is wrong. Threats on the ground are far, far too many – legal, physical, and from the state.” Working conditions While the mandate of the sub-committee was to look at the physical safety of journalists, it unintentionally ended up including the poor working conditions under which journalists, especially in rural areas work. In several states, journalists told the sub-committee that in addition to the threats to their lives, they had absolutely no job security. In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, several journalists complained that they were not given appointment letters and very low salaries. More worryingly, their newspapers refused to acknowledge them as employees when confronted by Maoists. (See below for a summary of complaints in some of the states.) Although he did not meet with the PCI, the Kashmiri journalist was very skeptical about the whole exercise. In his opinion, in a place where it was “the rule of violence”, attempts such as those of the PCI “were aimed at making the violence look less”. “Such an exercise helps builds trust in the system that oppresses them. A friend of mine explained things this way. He said if you take the lid off a watch, you will see that all the little parts are working against each other. But put the lid back on, and you will see that it all works to keep the time. The individual parts actually keep the larger system in place,” he said. Although the journalist meant this in the context of the violence in Kashmir, looking at one of the major complaints of journalists across the country, this viewpoint applies to journalists elsewhere in the sub-continent: journalists have told the PCI that they have been intimidated and assaulted by political parties, militants, police, mafias. Nothing happens, even if an FIR is registered. Even as they cope with these threats, they do so with practically no job security, and a pittance of a salary.
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