Two murders, many arrests, and unending online abuse


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That’s what the media in India has gone through this year. November 16 is National Press Day

Thursday marked National Press Day and brought into focus a year of extreme threats to journalists’ work.

2017 saw a long string on vicious attacks on the press in India. With murders, lawsuits and arrests and self-censorship for fear of retribution, the Fourth pillar of democracy has been reduced to but a shadow of its intended self.

Two journalists paid with their lives. The murder of Gauri Lankesh on September 5 in Bengaluru was seen as a direct attack on the press. She had been a fierce critic of the Modi government, and her murder sent shock waves across the media fraternity.

Shantanu Bhowmick was murdered in Agartala on September 20. He was working for Dinraat, a TV channel. He was attacked when he was covering violent clashes between the police and protesters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, his death brings the number of reporters killed in India since the early 1990s to 29.
Arrest of Vinod Verma

A freelance journalist and former editor at BBC Hindi, he had published an article criticising the ruling BJP weeks before he was taken into custody.

His arrest is suspected to be a direct result of his criticism of the state government.

The Wire case

A report on Jay Shah, son of BJP national president Amit Shah, brought a defamation case to the doors of The Wire.

The website had published a report on the sudden surge in profit earned by Jay Shah’s businesses.

A court has barred The Wire from publishing any news on Jay Shah until further notice.

Ram Rahim violence

Journalists faced mob violence after the conviction of godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim in Haryana. His followers unleashed violence as the state government failed to take control for a full day.

The mob targeted media vehicles and journalists who were covering the court proceedings and reactions.
In Karnataka

In June, the Assembly punished two journalists for writing against two MLAs.

It imposed a year-long prison sentence and a penalty of Rs 10,000.

MLAs B M Nagaraj and S R Vishwanath had complained to the legislative privileges committee against Ravi Belagere, editor of Hi Bangalore, a Kannada weekly tabloid, and Anil Raju, editor of the Yelahanka Voice daily newspaper.
Cartoonist hauled up

More recently, G Bala was arrested in Tamil Nadu for a caricature portraying chief minister E Palaniswami as being unable to help a distressed family.

This was a response to an incident at Tirunelveli where a daily-wage labourer’s family of four set themselves ablaze outside the collector’s office.

He posted the cartoon on Facebook, after which he was arrested.
Journalists also face death threats, abuse, and character assassination online and via social media.

Death threats

Anyone critical of Hindutva politics is being harassed by nasty social media users, some followed by none other than prime minister Narendra Modi.

Journalists who work in rural areas and small cities face severe threats. Kashmir is one of the most difficult terrains for journalists. The frequent ban on the Internet and a three-month ban on daily newspaper Kashmir Reader are just some of the instances of the situation there.
November 16, the formation day of the Press Council of India, is celebrated as National Press Day.

The media watchdog body was established in 1966. Protecting the independence of the press and journalists is its primary focus.

India is ranked 136 in the Press Freedom Index of 2017 and a report titled ‘Threat from Modi’s nationalism’ says the surge of Hindu nationalism is leading to self-censorship in mainstream media.

“Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals,” the index page for India says.

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