Ranjona Banerji: Will a special law for attacks on journalists work?

11 Apr,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Several media organisations and journalists have long negotiated with the state Government of Maharashtra for a special law to deal with attacks on journalists. The Mumbai Press Club announced on April 7 that at last, a special bill has been tabled and approved by the State Legislature.

There can be no doubt that journalists and media houses bear the brunt of being the messenger. Often, even within the media, there is the feeling that it is small towns which are more dangerous for stringers and reporters. And certainly, there are enough instances of various vested interests attacking journalists. Chhattisgarh is a prime example where anyone who questions the government or the police on the Naxal issue or the plight of tribals is threatened, harassed, beaten up or killed. Criminal mafia associated with mining, lumber, land acquisition or illegal business interests also target journalists.

But as we also know, it is not all “let’s respect the rule of law” in big cities either and especially not Mumbai when it comes to journalists. Nikhil Wagle has borne the brunt for questioning the Shiv Sena several times. In 1991, freelance journalist Manimala’s skull was cracked by crowbars while returning from a dharna to protect the Shiv Sena’a attacks on the Apla Mahanagar office. The newspaper had dared to criticise the Shiv Sena’s infamous digging up of the cricket pitch at Wankhede stadium.

In many ways, it was the murder of journalist J Dey in 2011 in a crowded suburb of Mumbai in broad daylight which activated media organisations to push the government for a special law to protect journalists. Dey was then working for Mid-Day. He was a specialist on the underworld. His attackers were part of the Chhota Rajan gang. The case is still going on, after several twists and turns.

This new law carries a fine of Rs 50,000 and three years in jail for an attack on a journalist and is a cognisable offence. These attacks have to be investigated by officers of the rank of Deputy SP or ACP.

However, if a media person files a false complaint, he or she is punished under the same law.

Congratulations are due to the Mumbai Press Club and others for their persistence in getting this law through.

However, as the Press Club release itself implies, investigating authorities have to make the law work.

And herein lies the main problem: India already has a plethora of laws, most of which are ignored, forgotten and consigned to the heap of “let’s forget”. Very often cases only progress because of constant pressure of those affected or involved. If any government took attacks on journalists seriously – just as an example, attacks on all citizens are important – there would have been action regardless of special laws.

In this particular law, the adjunct at the end – that media persons are also liable for filing “false claims” – is bound to be misused and in fact used against journalists. There is a minefield waiting to explode right here.

Without undermining the efforts of those got this law through, greater discussion is needed throughout the community. Congratulations but with the caveat is my take.

 

**

One of the heart-wrenching stories to come out this week was of the news anchor of IBC-24 who read out the news of her husband’s death in an accident, only realising what had happened as she read it on air. It is testament to her professionalism that she finished the segment without breaking down. All commiserations to her and her family.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/chhattisgarh-news-anchor-learns-of-husbands-death-while-reading-live-bulletin-maintains-composure-4605203/

 

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