Attacks on Journalist​s: Press Council chief serves dismissal notice on CM


22.2. 2012

Shri Prithviraj Chavan,
Chief Minister of Maharashtra,
Mumbai,

Dear Chief Minister,

A delegation of eight journalists from Maharashtra met me today and apprised me of a large number of physical attacks on journalists/media houses in the State of Maharashtra including the recent one on Times of India building in Mumbai allegedly by Shiv Sena people.

I was informed that in the last ten years well over 800 journalists were physically attacked, while in the last two and half years
213 journalists were attacked by political workers and anti-social elements. More shocking was the day light – murder of veteran journalist J.Dey.

In this connection I had written two letters to you but there was no response from your side to either of them. Did I not even deserve the courtesy of a reply?

Freedom of the Press is a guaranteed Constitutional right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution, and it is the duty of the Press Council of India to uphold the freedom of the press in view of section 13 of the Press Council Act.

It is the duty of the State Government to maintain law and order in the State, but it seems to me that your Government is neither able to maintain law and order nor prevent attacks on journalists, which seriously imperils freedom of the press.

You are, therefore, requested to now show cause why I should not recommend to the President of India to dismiss your State Government under Article 356 of the Constitution since your Government apparently seems to have failed to uphold the Constitution as it has failed to uphold the freedom of the press under Article 19 (1) (a).

Please give a reply to this letter within three weeks from today after which I will take such action as is fit in the circumstances.

Yours sincerely,
(Markandey Katju)

Press freedom stifled in India’s Naxal areas


         13 February 2012 -| By Gayatri Parameswaran

It might be the world’s largest democracy but India is struggling to defend its democratic status in the ‘red corridor’ – areas troubled by Naxalite or Maoist insurgency. Expectedly, press freedom is taking a beating. Some activists say the government is controlling information to hide its bad human rights track record.

“I can’t meet you openly. Let’s get into your car and drive away from here. We’ll talk in the car,” Satish Naik tells me over the phone. Naik is a local TV journalist in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh state in India’s Naxalite belt.

Epicentre
One of the least developed areas in the country, Dantewada has been at the epicentre of the conflict between the Indian government and the Naxalites in the past few years. Government reports suggest that in 2011, over 500 people have died in the violence. A recent Human Rights Watch report condemned India for its handling of the security situation in the Naxalite war zone. It said, “Impunity for abuses committed by security forces remains a pressing concern.”

The Naxalite movement began in West Bengal in 1960s and spread to central India in the 70s and 80s as a popular armed revolt. The Naxalites claim to be fighting on behalf of adivasis (indigenous tribals), the main victims of the land grabs sponsored by multinationals with the help of the Indian government. The tribals are living on land rich in minerals and forest resources and there are fortunes to be made from the exploitation of the natural wealth.

Surreptitious
Naik is justifiably cautious about being seen to be helping an outside journalist. In recent years, the police has arrested and beaten tribals and local journalists who tried to tell the story of official repression in the region’s remote rural communities. “They [police forces] might get curious about who you are and what you are trying to find out. They might follow us,” he warns just before the phone line is cut.

Mobile lines in Dantewada and other Naxal areas are notoriously unreliable, and journalists and activists are conscious that they could be bugged. When I arrive to pick him up, Naik dives quickly into the car and urges us to leave immediately. At the frequent police check points on the road, he hides his face and at times ducks away.

Self-censorship
Naik says that the authorities believe that most ‘outsiders’ come looking for ‘human rights-type’ stories that would put them in a bad light. “I don’t want to be seen as assisting outside journalists. I have to be careful, because I could get into trouble,” he stresses.

Naik tells me that the war has challenged India’s democratic character: “It’s not like rest of India here. There’s no freedom of movement or expression.” Journalists bucking the local system can lead to trouble, so many journalists subscribe to self-censorship. This has led to a blackout of important information.

Vengeance
Recently, Naik received a notice from the local authorities ordering him to vacate his house. He had written a story “about how a local collector abused his local labourer.” He says, “A few days later I got the notice.”

Naik was accused of illegally occupying forest land, but he says, “This is a tactic to bully me. The house isn’t registered on my name, but the notice was served under my name.”

Attacks
Human rights activist Himanshu Kumar says there have been cases of independent journalists being attacked, threatened, intimidated and even killed. He recounts the recent case of Lingaram Kodopi, an adivasi from Dantewada district.

Kodopi was the first tribal to be enrolled for a journalism course in Delhi. Last year, he filmed testimonies from villagers after a police raid where houses were burnt and several people were killed. After the film was released to the Indian media, Kodopi was arrested, and while he was in custody, he was brutally beaten. When his aunt, Soni Sori, filed a protest, she too was arrested and beaten. Both are now in prison, accused of being Naxalites.

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