Sunday, May 19, 2024

Journalism under siege


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World Press Freedom Day, observed on May 3, came and went without any noise. There was no visible observance of the day locally, nationally or even globally. The reason is because worldwide journalists are under attack for reporting from the ground. Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan are countries where journalists have been killed for doing their jobs. India has joined their ranks as one of the five most dangerous countries for journalists with 4 journalists being killed on duty in 2021. Press freedom in India today is under strain with most media channels and newspaper houses brazenly turning into cheerleaders of the Modi government. At no point in history has the media in India genuflected before the powers that be for survival. A report by Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) states that journalists located in the Hindi Belt were more vulnerable. Journalists covering cases of corruption and mafia gangs are vulnerable anywhere but more so in some states than in others.
In an era where fake news is manufactured in a tech factories owned by political parties with the money to burn, it is but natural that the co-founder of a fact-checking website Alt News – Mohammed Zubair would be arrested for calling out fake news that have the potential to brainwash unquestioning minds and push them to make uninformed decisions. Zubair was arrested in 2022 for a tweet he had made in 2018. He was accused of hurting religious sentiments and being disrespectful of a Hindu god. It was not lost on anyone that Zubair was arrested for being a harsh critic of Prime Minister Modi. Alt News had in fact done exemplary work in countering disinformation campaigns which are worse than misinformation since disinformation is intentionally created to mislead people. In March this year the editor of a weekly Hindi newspaper, Jago Uttarakhand was arrested from his home in Pauri town which is 151 kilometres from capital DehraDun. Negi was pursuing the case of the death of Ankita Bhandari in 2022. Bhandari was a receptionist at a resort owned by the son of a former BJP official. Negi was reporting on the tardy investigation by the state police. Although later released on bail, Negi faces all kinds of charges under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes law, based on a complaint from an unnamed individual and allegations of a scuffle with police officers during his arrest.
Immediately after Negi’s arrest, Uttarakhand Director General of Police, Abhinav Kumar, issued a statement accusing the journalist of being “part of a conspiracy” to “sow anarchy and discord in society,” through his reporting and activism around the police investigation into the killing of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari in September 2022. Journalists like Prabir Purkayastha of NewsClick have been jailed under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) – an Act that was aimed at countering terrorism but is now being freely used against journalists. What is unfortunate is the ability of the present government to fragment the journalistic fraternity and prevent it from taking a united stand on any issue.

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