Rise in attacks against journalists last year

Jatin Desai
Saturday, 13 January 2018

In 2017, globally 65 journalists were killed. According to Reporters Without Borders, 39 were murdered and deliberately targeted because of their reporting, while 26 were victims of the conflict.

Journalism, it is now well-known and well-accepted, is a dangerous profession. An honest, professional and purposeful journalist braves many hazards in his or her working life. Those on the war front and those pursuing investigative stories even risk death in the course of their work. Most journalists jailed across the world are charged under draconian anti-state laws. The number of women journalists killed in 2017 has doubled from 2016.

In 2017, globally 65 journalists were killed. According to Reporters Without Borders, 39 were murdered and deliberately targeted because of their reporting, while 26 were victims of the conflict. Iraq and Syria top the list. 326 reporters were detained. According to Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Turkey tops the number for the second year consequently with 73, China is behind with 41. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges under terror laws.

Crackdown in Turkey on media began in July 2016 after a failed coup that left more than 200 dead. Thousands of political activists and many journalists were arrested and prosecuted. They were alleged to be linked to the network of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled preacher blamed for instigating a coup. The harassment of journalists continues. More journalists are killed or detained where the government is against the freedom of expression and speech. It can also be said that journalists suffer more where democracy does not exist.

India stands at 136 in the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, India’s number was 133. It’s a bad sign. Pakistan was at 148 last year and this time they improved and stood at 139. Again Bangladesh is doing badly. They were on 144 last year and now at 146. This is primarily because of killing and harassment of bloggers.

India witnessed some shocking murders of journalists. Two journalists were killed in two separate incidences in Tripura. Shanatanu Bhowmik (28) was killed on September 20, 2017, when he was covering a rally of Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT). Police lath charged the mob and during the melee IPFT members killed Bhowmik. One more journalist Sudip Datta Bhaumik was shot dead by a jawan of 2nd Tripura State Rifles at RK Nagar on the outskirts of capital Agartala. As two journalists were killed in two months, most of the newspapers published from Agartala ran blank editorials.

Gauri Lankesh (55) was shot dead at her house in Bengaluru on September 5, 2017. She was editing Gauri Lankesh Patrike. A number of times she was threatened and defamation cases were filed against her. Right-wing Hindutva forces were against her as she was a vocal critic of their policies. She called herself ‘activist-journalist.’ Though the circulation of Gauri Lankesh Patrike was not much it carried an impact. She was close to young activists like Kanhaiya Kumar, Dalit leader and now Gujarat’s MLA Jignesh Mewani. She was a rationalist. The murder was well planned. Still, her murderers have not been arrested. The Karnataka government has formed a Special Investigating Team but not much progress has been made in the murder case. Her assassination shocked media and the country. Her assassination was a fourth in a series of murders of rationalists which began with the murder of Dr Narendra Dabholkar. Comrade Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were assassinated after him.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist from Malta, was killed in a powerful car bomb in October. Her assassination shocked the world. Her blog Running Commentary was hugely popular and thousands of people used to read her articles and news daily. She was very vocal and wrote against corruption in government, offshore companies etc. Malta’s PM Joseph Muscat and his close associates were often the targets of Galizia’s news reports. She led the Panama papers investigation into corruption in Malta.  

Significantly, on November 20, 2017, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) third committee adopted a significant resolution on ‘The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.’ It called upon all states to take comprehensive action to end impunity for attacks on journalists, with a focus on tackling attacks that target women journalists. The culture of impunity is common. In India, hardly accused are convicted in cases of attacks on journalists. The resolution also criticised internet shutdowns by states, to deny people access to information.

After a long struggle by the journalist community, Maharashtra finally framed a law to curb attacks on journalists. It is a step in the right direction but by mere passing a law, attacks will not stop. The attacks are also linked with the prevailing socio-political conditions. The culture of impunity and hatred needs to be curbed. The threat of intimidation must be checked for the journalists to work in a free and fair manner.

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