May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day, but how free is the press in India? Not at all, says a report on press freedom and free speech published by The Hoot. In the first four months of the year, the country has already witnessed the murders of 3 journalists and 13 incidents where press people have been attacked.
The report also says there were 50 incidents of censorship, and over 20 instances of internet services being suspended, apart from online posts being taken down due to sustained pressure.
While 2017 saw the killings of 11 journalists in all, of which three were directly linked to their journalistic work, the first four months of 2018 have already seen three murders. In all the cases so far, preliminary investigations show the journalists were killed for their reporting. Moreover, in all three cases, the journalists were mowed by vehicles.
On March 24, an SUV rammed into the bike on which Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh were travelling in Bihar, killing them on the spot. Both of them worked for Dainik Bhaskar. The SUV was allegedly being driver by former village pradhan Mohammad Hasru. Locals alleged that Navin and Hasru were involved in a heated spat the previous day, following which he died the next day.
In the second incident, which took place a day later in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, Sandeep Sharma, who had been reporting extensively on the sand mafia in the region, was run over by a dumper truck. Sandeep had earlier asked for police protection, saying he feared for his life after he exposed a senior police officer accepting bribes from the sand mafia. But, before he could receive protection, he was killed.
Apart from this, the first quarter of the year saw 13 attacks on journalists, five of which were directly linked to the issues the press persons were covering. According to the report, in at least six instances the attacks were carried out by Hindu right-wing organisations or the police.
In one incident in Kerala, journalist NC Shareef was beaten up and detained by the Areekode police for trying to click a photo of a flexi-board outside the police station. The area district police chief Debesh Behera had to intervene to release him.
New Delhi, the police attacked a female journalist covering a student protest, breaking her camera. Later, when she called them out on it, they apologise, stating that they thought she was a student!
Journalists have also been harassed and intimidated verbally -- of the 9 instances recorded, Hindu right-wing organisations were behind 4 incidents. In one sustained case of online bullying, an organised cyber attack was unleashed on Kerala journalist Shani Prabhakaran, where messages filled with sexual connotations were widely circulated.
Four journalists were detained by the police for their work -- two of whom are from Kerala. Ananthu Rajagopal and Abhilash were covering a Dalit-led protest against a wall built by the Nair Service Society near a temple. The Dalits alleged that the wall was built to keep them out. As the journalists went to cover the protests, they were rounded up and arrested.
This apart, a journalist from Jammu and Kashmir was charged with sedition for a post online that lambasted the Indian judiciary and government after a minor girl was raped in Kathua. Proceedings have continued in 5 cases of defamation filed against journalists and news organisations.
In the first 4 months of 2018, censorship of films, news, online media and broadcast continued unabated. In one instance, several media houses took down stories satirizing a speech by Anant Ambani without offering any explanation. In another case, two videos on a BJP-sympathetic channel mocking Rahul Gandhi were served notices for violation of copyright. A journalist was fired from a large media organisation for tweeting against the peddling of fake news by TV anchors.
But not all is grey: The Bombay High Court recently lifted a gag order on the media covering the Sohrabuddin trial. A district court in Delhi lifted an injunction order on the publication of a book on controversial yoga instructor and businessman, Baba Ramdev.