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Press Freedom in a State of Peril in Chhattisgarh

Failing to protect the freedom of press, the journalists of Chhattisgarh asks for Legislation on Protection of Journalism

Over the past few years, there have been a number of stories about growing attacks and allegations on journalists. Journalism is the fourth pillar of democracy, and this pillar or for that matter people holding up the pillar have very low security for their lives. In India, where journalists are being harassed and jailed constantly, Indian Democracy seems in danger like never before.

Our country is one of the most unsafe countries for journalists and this was revealed in the NCRB data quoted in it’s reply to the Rajya Sabha. Since 2010, 36 journalists have been murdered in India. Four of these journalists were from Chhattisgarh. The mining capital, where both state and Maoists, look at journalism with suspicion, to be a journalist is not easy.  “We cover stories from very remote areas which are very sensitive. We travel places and keep a record of activities that happen. Hence an attack on us is a major setback and should not be taken lightly”, said Hans Raj Tondon, a journalist in Chhattisgarh.

There have been several cases like these, where journalists claim to have been falsely implicated, arrested and booked under various stringent sedition laws. As many as 70 journalists were killed in India between 1992 and 2016. Gauri Lankesh, editor of a Kannada tabloid, was killed on September 5, 2017. A Doordarshan camera person was killed in an attack in Dantewada district, Chattisgarh in Oct 2018. In a recent World Press Freedom Index report by Reporters Without Borders, India has been ranked 138 of 180 countries in 2017. “Journalism is not an easy task anymore. Whenever a journalist gets out of his house, he thinks about the number of attacks and allegations he might face. To preserve all of it and to do his duty fearlessly is now becoming a matter of concern”, Champesh Joshi, Chhattisgarh journalist.  

Chhattisgarh is undergoing an identity crisis as a journalist will remain “not recognised”until they receive accreditation from the state. Adding to that, the state only grants this prerogative to only one journalist per district from a media house or publication. Therefore, journalists who do not have permission are in constant fear of being exploited by both the state and the Maoists.“We are scared even when we try to cover stories without partiality. Whether we cover implicitly or not, doing stories around issues that do not have connections to any political party is not easy, especially in Bastar” adds Champesh Joshi.

In February 2019, Suman Panday, a journalist was assaulted by BJP party workers in Raipur. He shot footage of the heated arguments by BJP party workers during a review meeting. Local journalists after that incident staged a protest in Kondagaon, and demanded legislation to protect journalists.

“Journalists who report from the village and remote belts often have themselves in danger of being assaulted or killed. They never know who would harm them for what coverage of theirs. I hence appeal that the ‘Journalist Protection Act’ be introduced and implemented with immediate effect”, says Rajesh Sahoo, a journalist who himself faced numerous cases filed against him for reporting on certain issues.

In a series of articles, CPJ has long documented assaults, arrests, and even killings of journalists, including human right violations, vigilante groups, and corruption. The government has been mulling over protection of Journalists, but the welfare and safety of the people who carry on the free press are seldom mentioned.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, acting on the demands of Journalist fraternity, reiterated his electoral promise to draft a bill to protect journalists and pursue investigations into crimes against them. “We expect the government to do this because it was an agenda in the manifesto that they will have a law to safeguard the journalists of the country We expect that this will be implemented soon and the journalist can go ahead and do their duty without fear”, says  Champesh Joshi.

In the Maharashtra legislative assembly, The Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017 was passed. It stated that any incident of violence against media persons or damage or loss of property of media persons or media institutions is now punishable in the state. While Maharashtra led its path to eliminate exacerbate actions towards journalists, in the rest of the country most of the journalists are left to fend themselves.

 

Video by Community Correspondent Khirendra Yadav.

Article by Grace Jolliffe, a member of the VV editorial team

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