Ranjona Banerji: Future Bleak for Conscientious and Frank Journalism?

19 Jun,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

On June 14, Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, and two of his bodyguards were shot dead by suspected terrorists outside his office in Srinagar. Bukhari, 50, had worked with The Hindu for a number of years before starting Rising Kashmir 10 years ago. He was the reasonable voice of Kashmir for many as he attempted to provide an objective, pro-Kashmiri perspective.

For this, he was hated both by India’s Hindutva rightwing and Kashmir’s separatist lobby. But for India’s journalists, Shujat was the person they went to when they had questions about Kashmir. He was a familiar face on television as well, as a panellist on Kashmir discussions.

Most people condemned the murder, including politicians and separatists. But for journalists, this is one more attack on those who are just doing their jobs. Death threats have been growing in recent times and now here is a murder because someone has a voice, a point of view, that others do not agree with.

A few days before he was killed, one of our newly minted rightwing “commentators” Anand Ranganathan (whom many, unfortunately, mistake for a journalist) had condemned Bukhari, who was a very senior and experienced journalist, for being biased. Madhu Kishwar, once one of India’s most foremost feminists, was led to tweet about how she could easily have been murdered like Bukhari; the connection was tenuous but the need to jump onto a bandwagon was not.

I use these as examples of how irresponsible and toxic the atmosphere can be for journalists and how disagreement gets tinged with calls for violence and boycott. Bukhari was killed by terrorists, while he was being accused by the Hindutva rightwing of being sympathetic to terrorists.

The threat meanwhile, remains real and frightening for those who report from the forefront or who upset those in power or those who want to be in power.

In these two fine pieces, by Prem Shankar Jha and Seema Chishti, the reach and significance of Bukhari’s journalism are well described.

https://thewire.in/security/shujaat-bukhari-a-hero-martyred

 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/shujaat-bukhari-killing-in-many-worlds-at-the-same-time-yet-rooted-to-the-ground/lite/?__twitter_impression=true

Pamela Philipose, public editor for The Wire, writes about Bukhari and journalism on the “razor’s edge”.

https://thewire.in/media/backstory-what-shujaat-bukharis-killing-tells-you-about-journalism-on-the-razors-edge

 

 

**

In a strange coincidence, around the time that Bukhari was killed, the police in Karnataka have managed to arrest a man they suspect of having murdered senior journalist Gauri Lankesh, outside her home in Bengaluru, in September last year. Lankesh was a fearless journalist who worked in mainstream papers and for past few years ran the Lankesh Patrike. She took on the Hindutva rightwing and felt strongly about Karnataka identity politics. The parallels with Bukhari are unmistakable.

The suspected shooter and other conspirators arrested for Lankesh’s murder are all associated with the Hindu Yuva Sene, the Ram Sene, the Hindu Janjagran Manch and the Sanatan Sanstha. The bullets in the murders of Lankesh, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were discharged from the same weapon. The net is closing but the murder of Bukhari underlines how journalists who threaten the status quo are in danger. Lankesh’s death was also celebrated by several from the rightwing.

Condemnations pour in easily enough and there are strong statements issued by journalists’ organisation. But as long as we belittle our own by accepting threats against those we disagree with as par for the course, we belittle ourselves. The future for conscientious and frank journalism, in such a scenario, looks dismal and, increasingly, deadly.

 

​Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are her own​

 

 

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