On Wednesday, readers of the Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi woke up to the sight of the front page of the daily bearing no news, but news items struck off with black ink. All editions of Mathrubhumi carried a blacked out front page.
But the puzzled readers got their answer on the second page of the newspaper in an explanatory note that said:
"Today is World Press Freedom Day. Mathrubhumi, that began nine decades ago continues to fight for freedom. Mathrubhumi was born as a means to fight the British rule in the country and when it published its first edition, it printed the following pledge: 'A man needs to have freedom to carry out his responsibilities. Likewise, citizens of every country must have freedom to develop their own culture and contribute to the larger good of the society. Therefore, we will not only fight for the freedom of our own country, but also to attain the freedom for those countries, who have lost their freedom. ”
Years after newspapers such as The Indian Express and The Statesman ran blank editorials as a mark of their resistance during The Emergency, the Malayalam newspaper embraced a similar tactic to bring to light the rising threat to the freedom of the press.
In the latest Press Freedom Index ,published by Reporters Without Borders, India ranked 136, three points down than last year.
With this report, Mathrubhumi’s action becomes more poignant, as the newspaper reflects on the times it had to face the brunt for being crusaders of press freedom.
"The founders of Mathrubhumi and the journalists of those times were the people who were influenced by the freedom movement of Gandhiji and joined him in his struggle. Many of them were even jailed as part of the freedom movement. KA Damodara Menon is the editor of Mathrubhumi Kozhikode office, who was arrested on August 9, 1942 for taking part in the Quit India movement. Mathrubhumi Director and Kozhikode Municipal Chairman Kozhipurathu Madhava Menon was also arrested then. Its former editor K Kelappan, fondly known as Kerala Gandhi was arrested in Thalassery. This episode is a living testimony to the fact that press freedom is no different from freedom of a nation. Nine decades later, Mathrubhumi wish to renew the pledge," the note reads.
Speaking to The News Minute, Rajeev Punnoli Irupattil, Executive Editor of Mathrubhumi said that the initiative aims to address the conditions in which the press currently functions.
"At a time when news that are supposed to reach the people are killed, using black on the front page was our way of symbolically representing the situation. Not just in India, but journalists across the world are facing threats to life. Look at the indices from the last two years, and one can see that the situation is only worsening," Rajeev said.
While he said that it would not be completely appropriate to term our time as the second Emergency, Rajeev said that the situation of journalists in India is bad, nonetheless.
"Journalists become statistics when they are killed. But what happens to those journalists who face threats through out? Where are there numbers?" Rajeev asks.
The paper also carried reports of several studies, including one by the Global Civil Society that reveals some harsh truths about the conditions under which journalists have to work.
For instance the study reveals that it is a common practice in Africa to prevent media persons from revealing unpleasant truths. 23 % of the total attacks on journalists in Africa, is carried out for political reporting. Journalists who report on communal issues and corruption face higher risks.
In Latin America, Mexico is the country where journalists face threat to life. In order to protect oneself from drug peddlers and criminals, a journalist has two options--self censorship or leave the country.