National Journalism Day: India needs to introspect and better its record when it comes to press freedom

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Having been a media person for the last 17 years now I cannot but write a piece on National Journalism Day today.  Being the founding member of Community of Democracies, India had taken a pledge to uphold the freedom of speech and expression. It has pledges for freedom of press and freedom of transparency as core principles. We should be aware that, freedom of expression is also guaranteed under ‘Article 19’ of India’s constitution. Sadly though, over time, freedom of press or media in has deteriorated.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

But, as a country has Indian been able to uphold freedom of press and journalists? Sadly no.  Since the year 1992, almost over 48 journalists have been killed in our country, 38 of which were murdered. It is distressing fact to know that of 180 countries, India ranks 138th on Press Freedom Index. Formerly, our country ranked 136th in 2017 and 133rd in 2016.

State of journalists in India

While unfortunately many of the murder cases of journalists went without conviction, the preliminary probe in other cases tells us that journalists working in regional media, politics, crime, and corruption were attacked the most. If we reflect back to 2018, many journalists have lost their lives, one of them being the attack on DD cameraman in Chhattisgarh. On June 14, 2018, Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir daily was gunned down in Srinagar. In September 2017, senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered just outside her residence in Bengaluru, while Sudip Dutta Bhaumik was shot dead by a police officer in Tripura. In a horrendous case of back-to-back killings three journalists Navin Singh and Vijay Singh in Bihar, Sandeep Sharma in Madhya Pradesh were mowed down by vehicles.

What does freedom of press mean?

So, what does freedom of the press or freedom of the media actually mean? Well, it is the communication and expression through varied media platforms which includes print and electronic media, more especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. It also means the absence of interference from an overreaching state. The preservation of this freedom may be sought through the constitution or other legal protection and security.

India’s record

The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word ‘press’, provides for “the right to freedom of speech and expression” (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under sub clause, whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt, court, defamation or incitement to an offense”. Laws such as the Official Secrets Act and Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act(PoTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under PoTA, person could be detained for up to six months for being in contact with a terrorist or terrorist group. PoTA was repealed in 2006, but the Official Secrets Act 1923 continues.

For the first half-century after India’s independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on press freedom. Even after that, the press was restricted and sometimes controlled under various regimes. Today though, it ranks poorly at 138th rank out of 180 listed countries in the Press Freedom Index 2018 released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB). If one is to analyse India’s press freedom, it can be safely said from the Press Freedom Index, that this freedom has constantly reduced since 2002, when it culminated in terms of apparent freedom, getting a rank of 80 among the reported nations. However, in 2018, India’s freedom of press ranking declined two placed to 138. RWB explains this decline thus – it is a result of growing intolerance from neo-nationalist supporters and the murders of journalists.

India needs to introspect as a thriving democracy isn’t it its first duty to uphold the freedom of the press and hence media personnel. India and the ruling government of the day need to uphold its commitment to the democratic principles and pledge to look out for the safety of journalists, reporters, and media houses. It is the crying need of the hour.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Smita Singh is a freelance writer who has over 17 years of experience in the field of print media, publishing, and education. Having worked with newspapers like The Times of India (as a freelancer), National Mail, Dainik Bhaskar, and DB Post, she has also worked with Rupa& Co, a book publishing house, and edited over 30 books in all genres.

She has worked with magazines like Discover India and websites called HolidayIQ and Hikezee (now Go Road Trip). She has also written for Swagat (former in-flight magazine of Air India), Gatirang (magazine of MarutiUdyog), India Perspectives (magazine for Ministry of External Affairs) and Haute Wheels (magazine of Honda).

After turning freelance writer she wrote on art and architecture for India Art n Design. She also worked for Princeton Review as a full-time Admissions Editor and then IDP Education Private Limited as an Application Support Consultant. Smita has her own website called bookaholicanonymous.com which supports her love for books and reading!

You can reach her at: [email protected]

(Collage with images from the net)

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