Indian Journalists Call for New Law to Protect Their Rights

Kshitij Nagar
2016.09.05
New Delhi
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160902-IN-press-620.jpg Indian journalists and supporters rally in support of slain journalist Kishore Dave, who was stabbed in his office in Junagadh, Aug. 24, 2016.
AFP

Indian journalists are demanding a fresh law that safeguards their rights in the wake of a new report that claims more than two dozen of their brethren have been killed since 1992 in the world’s most populous democracy.

“It is now extremely important to have some sort of cover for journalists, especially those who are vulnerable – the ones working in small towns, as they do not have the same level of support as journalists working in big cities,” Jagtap Yadav, a senior journalist from Agra, in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state, told BenarNews.

“Investigative reporters and cameramen, particularly those covering politics and corruption, are working under constant threats. We need a new law that protects us,” Yadav said.

Journalist Kishore Dave, the bureau chief of local daily “Jai Hind-Sanjh Samachar,” was stabbed to death Aug. 22 at his workplace in Junagadh, in Gujarat state, according to Indian media reports. Three suspects were arrested two days later.

One of the suspects allegedly was involved in a business partnership with and had issues with the journalist, New Delhi Television reported.

Demand grows

Yadav said the call for a new law to protect the rights of Indian media workers began in May after two journalists were killed in Bihar while working on separate stories.

On May 13, two men on a motorcycle gunned down Rajdeo Ranjan, bureau chief of leading Hindi-language daily Hindustan, in the Siwan district of Bihar state. A day earlier, Taza TV news channel reporter Akhilesh Pratap Singh was killed in a similar fashion in neighboring Jharkhand state.

The demand for increased protection gained steam after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based international media watchdog, released a report on Monday claiming that the Indian government had failed to protect journalists who were working to expose graft, Yadav said.

The investigative report by CPJ shows that 27 Indian journalists have been killed during the past 24 years. The CPJ said it found only one case in the past 10 years where a suspect had been charged, prosecuted and convicted for killing a journalist.

Kishore Dave’s killing was not included in the CPJ report.

“As a group, we welcome the CPJ findings. It will strengthen our demand for a new law,” Yadav said.

The CPJ report also noted that India’s notoriously slow judiciary is a concern. “Even if a court hears the case, there will be delays,” the report said.

India, with its population of 1.25 billion people, has more than 30 million cases pending in the court system, according to the latest available official figures.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to work and report on [the] ground, partly because there are no credible institutions that one can turn toward,” Sonal Mehrotra, chief correspondent with New Delhi Television (NDTV), told BenarNews.

Mehrotra and a colleague were threatened with violence, abused and manhandled by a group of lawyers while reporting inside New Delhi’s Patiala House Courts for a story related to the arrest of a controversial student leader on charges of sedition in February.

“It is all very ironic as it happened in a court room, which is one of the most important pillars of a democratic society. Shockingly, it took me longer to file a police complaint than it took for the accused to get bail. And not much has moved forward since,” Mehrotra said.

Calls for law to shield press

The New Delhi-based Press Club of India president Rahul Jalali said a law on the books, the Working Journalists’ Act, provides some cover to regular employees of newspapers, but even press associations are “not clear about its exact implementations.”

“We need a new law that covers all working journalists, whether freelance or contractual, so that they are not exploited,” Jalali told BenarNews. “I have observed that a majority of defamation cases in the past couple of years have been on journalists working for online magazines, which the present law does not protect.”

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesman, rejected the CPJ findings, claiming there was no need for a separate law.

“I do not agree with the sentiment that there is shrinking space for free speech in India. This [the CPJ report] is mostly propaganda,” he told BenarNews.

“Yes, there have been incidents of journalists being targeted recently, but we have always made it a point to come forward and vehemently condemn such acts of violence [as] journalism continues to be a strong pillar of our democracy,” he added.

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