When Real Journalists Suffer

28 Apr,2020

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The annual press freedom index published by Reporters without Borders (RSF) for 2020 sees India drop down two places from 140 in 2019 to 142 in 2020.

 

The 2020 report “suggests that the next 10 years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes); a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees); a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies); a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).”

 

India, according to RSF, finds itself in the piquant situation of having no deaths, a relief, upended by the increased pressure on Indian journalists for reporting news perceived as “anti-government”.

 

This is what the RSF report writes on India:

 

“With no murders of journalists in India in 2019, as against six in 2018, the security situation for the country’s media might seem, on the face of it, to have improved. However, there have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line has increased.”

 

This is especially true as far as coverage of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is concerned. Journalists have been arrested, jailed, had draconian laws used against them, all for questioning government information or presenting the government’s relief efforts in a “bad light”.

 

https://rsf.org/en/2020-world-press-freedom-index-entering-decisive-decade-journalism-exacerbated-coronavirus

 

https://rsf.org/en/india

 

The Committee to Protect Journalists has done a number of stories about the threats and attacks which journalists, especially those who cover the Covid-19 crisis, face from the police, local administrations or the enormous might of the state or Centre face.

 

https://cpj.org/blog/2020/04/journalists-in-indias-uttar-pradesh-say-threat-of-.php

 

The CPJ and 73 media and rights groups have issued this statement to several Asian heads of state:

https://cpj.org/2020/04/cpj-73-media-and-rights-groups-urge-asian-heads-of.php

 

Journalists working in Kashmir have been targeted since the state was stripped of its civil liberties and disenfranchised by the Modi-led government last December. Now, those covering the virus are being attacked once again.

 

The CPJ has issued statements to stop harassing Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq:

https://cpj.org/2020/04/jammu-and-kashmir-police-launch-investigations-int.php

 

Posts on social media are also being used to harass journalists, as with Gowhar Geelani:

https://cpj.org/2020/04/jammu-and-kashmir-police-launch-investigation-into.php

 

 

And this is Tamil Nadu, and again the crime is giving a “bad name” to the government in their Covid coverage.

https://cpj.org/2020/04/police-in-indias-tamil-nadu-state-arrest-journalis.php

 

When much of the general public refers to “the media”, they usually mean TV anchors orchestrating hate talk in their studios or what they see as intrusive TV reporters and camerapersons. The tremendous work that goes into a news report or an investigation by a number of people is obviously unknown to them. So also is the danger under which they work. And the main job of journalism has to be questioning the government in power. Which includes showing it in a “bad light” and giving it a “bad name”. Every journalist who has acted as a govermment – any government – publicity agent has helped to create this situation where journalists are harangued and harassed for doing their basic job.

When you consider that a substantial number of journalists on the ground have caught the virus themselves, that should alert even us within of the hazards of our profession. If, that is, we can tear ourselves away from the drama of Arnab Goswami and hot social media debate over his inalienable right to hate speech under the Indian Constitution. However horrific a 12-and-a-half-hour interrogation by the Mumbai police, it cannot compare to Masrat Zahra having the UAPA used against her for posting her photos on social media. Nor, if it is not unfair to mention this, Gauri Lankesh being shot at her doorstep by rightwing goons, for daring to oppose the rightwing.

We go down the press freedom index because of people like Goswami, people who do not just toe the government line but actively exacerbate the hatred of Muslims, other minorities, Dalits and whoever else the Hindutva machinery takes against. These are the people who help the Modi government to carry on with its RSS agenda. It’s not as if they don’t know. They do it because they know.

Goswami is at the “increase hate” part of the pro-Modi-BJP spectrum, others are the Modi-BJP publicity end like India Today TV, which may well lose its mega-city TRP status after the Goswami drama. One shudders to imagine what new lows they will now come up with to compete.

The result, as we can see, is that journalism as a whole suffers; and real journalists suffer.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

 

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