World Press Freedom Day- Where Art Thou? asks a Northeast Indian journalist!

World Press Freedom Day- Where Art Thou? asks a Northeast Indian journalist!

By SHWETA RAJ KANWAR | May 3, 2018

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, a day which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference, let us remember that this is an opportunity to:

-celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom

-assess the state of press freedom throughout the world

-defend the media from attacks on their independence

-and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty

The theme for 2018 World Press Freedom day is – Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law 

Talking about power, media or the fourth estate, as it is often referred to as has the power to make or even break a democratic set up, and this is clearly visible in the manner in which Indian political parties become media pleasers ahead of elections.

But again, this power also comes with great responsibilities and now, this should be emphasized on even more than before because the thin line between social media and media is seen to be flouted openly almost every single day. And here comes the need for the application of Rule of Law. But let’s be honest and ask ourselves a few questions:

How free is the press in India? What is the guarantee that if we exercise our freedom, there would be no negative consequences for the same? Will we, as journalists be penalized for doing our jobs? Are we even allowed to have opinions at a personal level?

India has dropped down to 138th rank, two points below the previous year in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by global watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

In the recent past, India has been a witness to journalist killings- an attempt to gag the independent mouthpieces in many states, only for having opinions at a personal level and exercising their responsibilities diligently at a professional level.

Let me cite a few instances in view of this. Northeast Indian states have come into the limelight in recent times for murder of various journalists as well as intimidating threats to them for their work. This could have been done in virtual or real world but the attempt to censor their voices does exist.

The recent petrol bomb attack at the residence of the Editor of a leading English daily in Meghalaya,The Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim can be clearly seen as an example of attempt to intimidate the voice of a journalist. The case is under investigation.

However, this is not the first time that such an instance has occurred in the region. In 2012, the associate editor of Arunachal Times,Tongam Rina was shot at by unidentified gunman while she was entering her Arunachal Times office. The attackers fled after the attack. The office was also reportedly ransacked by unidentified people on April 16 and several of her colleagues had been receiving death threats.

From editors down to the rank of reporters and camera persons, the number of the dead male journalists makes a long list. Statistics exist for Assam – 32 deaths since 1987, as per government records. None of these cases has seen any meaningful probe leading to a conviction of the accused, even though a nexus to those in power was evident.

In 2008, in yet another locality of Imphal, Konsam Rishikanta, a sub-editor with Imphal Free Press, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. No reason was cited. In 2002, Yambem Megha, a correspondent with Vision North East, was gunned down. So was the editor of the then popular English newspaper The Manipur News (in 2000). In 1999, it was the turn of H.A. Laroha, editor of a journal in a tribal dialect; in 1993, it was R. K. Santomba, editor of Kangla Lampung.

The above are just some of the numerous instances that journalists in Northeast India went through. And let me make it clear that in none of the above cases, any person has been convicted of the crime- such is the law of the land. The above are a few examples of physical intimidation only. And what about the daily virtual intimidation that journalists face?

From death threats to warning by miscreants of morphing facebook pictures to humiliate a journalist, especially if the journalist happens to be a female, slut shaming (because well, she is a female and there are no online laws against them)… No strict laws against physical or virtual intimidation and yet these journalists work day in and out, doing what they do best.

I personally feel there is no point patronizing media or journalists for only one day because as it is, this is a thankless profession. What we need at this hour are strict laws to protect the freedom of journalists and the media because they go hand-in-hand.

But well, sometimes, even a day of thankfulness and recognition means a lot for us!

DISCLAIMER: The opinion expressed in the article belongs to the writer and TNT- The Northeast Today may not subscribe to the same views


The writer can be reached at shwetarajkanwar@gmail.com

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