India is one of world’s most dangerous places for journalists, says RSF

27 May,2022




By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiWe are obviously shocked by the latest school shooting in the USA. We cannot believe that the world’s most advanced country is so lax and backward when it comes to gun laws. We are outraged at a culture where school children can buy assault rifles and then shoot each other.

It barely registers when Shubhash Kumar Mahto is shot at close range when he was coming home after a wedding party.

Mahto was a journalist who lived and worked in Bihar.

He investigated the liquor and sand mafias.

He had received death threats.

His death is an execution.

In fact, I would not have known about it if I did not subscribe to Reporters Without Borders.

The death of one more journalist barely makes the news in India.

Mahto was not a fancy TV anchor.

He was a stringer for Hindi newspapers and posted his work on a digital news-sharing platform.

According to RSF, India is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. Earlier this year, Rohit Kumar Biswal, a photojournalist was killed by an explosive in Odisha.

The sad truth is that the divisions within the journalistic community are stronger than anything that binds us. The way we practise journalism, what we think journalism means and is and what we think we must achieve are all at odds with each other.

This is different from rival media houses competing with each other. The same journalists after all can work for any or all of them. The issue has become starker for us: what does being a journalist mean?

The murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, by Hindutva rightwing assassins at her doorstep in 2017, is often discussed. But it is journalists who let her death pass them by. As they will of Biswal and Mahto. The claims of the murderers get precedence over that of their victims. It is perhaps politically inconvenient to take on Hindutva forces. Or financially inconvenient to take on local business interests. All this will take precedence over the deaths.

I will undoubtedly be schooled now by some all-knowing usually male person, because how can I possibly know something so obvious, how small town and language newspaper owners often use blackmail tactics to make money. And how their reporters are used to do this blackmail. In this copout explanation we see several of our prejudices. That journalists only exist in big cities. That small, local media owners are crooks. That only urban, English-speaking journalists do any actual work.

I put this to you: anyone who makes money doing business in India has to resort to some crookery. The bigger the business, the more the crookery. Check the biggest loan defaulters. And the owners of India’s largest media houses. Speaking in English and living in a big city does not make you more competent. You only have to watch 30 minutes of primetime English language “debate” television to know that.

India is falling apart.

And those who write the first draft of history are being killed while no one cares.

Or celebrating the collapse.

On live television.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal


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