Don’t Kill the Voices – Punish the Expression Killers

Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar

17 Dec 2014 9:19 AM GMT

  • Don’t Kill the Voices – Punish the Expression Killers

    If message is bad, messenger shall not be killed. Bad reports reflect bad society. By reporting it, a journalist is helping the world to correct itself.  We have a Constitution which guarantees that no person shall be killed without the procedure established by law.  But the lives of journalists are being taken by those who never respect the law.  Leaders who take oath to work according...

    If message is bad, messenger shall not be killed. Bad reports reflect bad society. By reporting it, a journalist is helping the world to correct itself.  We have a Constitution which guarantees that no person shall be killed without the procedure established by law.  But the lives of journalists are being taken by those who never respect the law.  Leaders who take oath to work according to Constitution established by law, are hand in glove with the thugs and black money launderers in killing the rising voices of journalists against them.

    Even if a single journalist is murdered it breaches two fundamental rights – Right to life and Right to free of speech and expression.  There are several kinds of killings in India other than murders for gain.

    1. Ordinary employees who complain about corruption to higher authorities – the whistle blowers, though they do not publicize their complaints or said anything. Everybody has a right to petition and complain, but they get killed in return. Interestingly we have Whistle Blower Protection Act, passed recently but yet to be implemented.
    2. Ordinary citizens who seek information and nothing else, exercising their right under Right to Information Act 2005. It was reported that at least 40 RTI activists are killed in India in recent years.
    3. Journalists, who investigate and expose the corruption, are killed for political reasons in attacks by criminal gangs. Journalists are regarded as members of Fourth Estate, or Fourth Pillar of Indian Estate with Article 21 and Article 19 of Constitution guaranteed their lives and liberties.
    4. There is yet another class of ‘killed’, those ordinary persons who inadvertently comment in twitter or facebook face criminals or booked in criminal cases. Our state jails them for tweeting.  It is nothing but misuse of Information Technology Act 2000 some provisions of which are challenged as violative of Articles, 14, 19 and 21.

    While journalists world over are trying to get some moral strength, the brutality against the humanity has assumed new shape of beheading the journalists as part of their terrorist activities.  Another turn in cruelty is that the Sunni jihadi organisation Islamic State (IS) sought $1 million for releasing the remains of the slain US journalist James Foley, as reported on 11th December 2014.   The militant group was willing to provide a DNA sample from Foley's remains to facilitate the deal. If true, the attempted sale would highlight the ruthlessness behind IS's hostage-taking enterprise that has provided the militant group with deep reservoirs of funds and publicity. Abducted in Syria in November 2012, Foley was beheaded Aug 10 this year by the IS as shown in a video released online by the militant group. At one point early this year, the IS held 23 Western hostages in Syria. Fifteen Europeans were freed as governments reportedly paid millions of dollars in ransom, but the British and US hostages were left behind. Both governments have refused to negotiate for hostages, or to allow families to pay ransom. In the months since Foley's death, the IS had released videotaped executions of US journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker Alan Henning, and US aid worker Peter Kassig. British journalist John Cantlie and a US woman still remain in IS hands.

    Otherwise, 89 journalists were killed in 2012, 52 in 2013 and the count of deaths in 2014 is yet to be completed. India is not lagging behind in endangering the lives of the journalists who dared to expose the criminal mafia gangs and their power connections. The UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on Journalists Safety on 26th November 2013.  This resolution in connection with the United Nations Plan of Action, reaffirmed the resolve after the recent tragic death of two French journalists in Mali.

    Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said, “Another 52 journalists have been killed in connection with their work since the start of 2013. We were outraged by the murders of veteran French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in Mali on November 2, as we have been by the murders of fellow journalists in Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, Brazil and other parts of the world in 2013.”

    “The safety of journalists is an essential prerequisite for achieving freedom of expression, democracy, social development and peace. The resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly and the cause symbolized by the date chosen for International Day to End Impunity are more crucial than ever.

    Another resolution in November 2014 strengthened the earlier UN Resolution saying, “Reaffirm our support for the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity while recommending a stronger strategic focus on engaging all stakeholders at domestic levels to implement the plan, given the time passed since its launch;

    In this new resolution an emphasis was laid on the preventive and protective safety measures outlined in the Plan of Action, encouraged more consistent and less disconnected actions at country level to guarantee such precautionary measures.

    The new resolution reaffirms the concept of journalism as an activity that is evolving and now includes not only professional journalists but also “private individuals and a range of organizations that seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, online as well as offline.” RWB also called for the appointment of a special adviser to the secretary-general to ensure that it is effectively implemented.

    Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “International resolutions are being adopted that are moving in the same direction, at least on paper, namely towards more security for journalists. “But the reality on the ground has not changed. Journalists are still vulnerable and are still being targeted in connection with their reporting. A total of fifty-nine journalists have been killed since the start of the year. Governments must be required to provide an account of their concrete efforts to protect journalists and combat impunity.”

    Reinforcing governments’ obligations to combat impunity, it mentions the June 2014 UN Human Rights Council panel on the safety of journalists, at which the special rapporteurs criticized a lack of political will on the part of governments, it points out that attacks against journalists are on the rise and it describes the fight against impunity as the “biggest challenge” for journalists’ safety.

    Paragraph 8 urges governments to cooperate with UNESCO on a “voluntary basis” and to share information about investigations into attacks against journalists, while paragraph 7 refers to the good practices identified in the Human Rights Council resolution of 25 September 2014.

    New resolution stresses “the particular vulnerability of journalists to becoming targets of unlawful or arbitrary surveillance or interception of communications in violation of their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression.” It also calls for the release of all journalists who are being held hostage or who are the victims of enforced disappearance and says that not only journalists but also their families should receive compensation for acts of violence.

    The creation of the post of special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the safety of journalists was one of the recommendations on the safety of journalists that Reporters Without Borders published on 14 September. On 2 November, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Reporters Without Borders drew attention to ten emblematic cases of impunity with the aim of aim of involving the general public and stepping up pressure on governments to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

    In India

    India climbed up International Press Institute’s IPI list of media personnel killed across the world during 2013 with eleven journalists killed including Nemi Chand Jain and Sai Reddy in Bastar, Zakaullah in Bulandshahr, Rakesh Sharma in Etawah, and Rajesh Verma and Israr in Muzaffarnagar. The list also includes rationalist Narendra Dabholkar as he also edited a weekly magazine.

    India is at third position in the IPI. While war-torn Syria topped the list with 16 journalists killed, Philippines and Iraq shared the second position with 13 such fatalities each.  In fact, more journalists have been killed in India this year than in Pakistan which had been billed as “the most dangerous country for journalists” for two years in a row, beginning 2011. Nine journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013.

    Year 2012 was the deadliest year recorded with 132 dead. Death Watch includes journalists and media staff who were deliberately targeted because of their profession – “either because of their reporting or simply because they were journalists”. The list also includes journalists killed on assignment.

    According to the IPI, 2013 was the second deadliest year on its Death Watch with a total of 117 journalists killed across the world. Besides India, other countries which registered a rise in the number of journalists killed included Mexico, Iraq and Philippines. Of the seven regions into which the IPI has divided the world for Death Watch, the Middle East and North African region topped the list again with 38 journalists killed. Asia came a close second with 37; retaining its dubious distinction of recording the second largest number of journalists killed.

    Score is 66 in 2014

    Press Freedom Barometer 2014 indicated that 66 journalists were killed in this year with one journalists killed in India.  In all twenty-six journalists were killed over the past 12 years in the northeast region, making it one of the most dangerous places for working journalists. In the last three years, four journalists were killed in Tripura and three in Manipur alone. Overall, 26 journalists have been killed in the northeastern states and Assam in 12 years, while 25 were killed in Jammu and Kashmir, “What’s even more shocking is that there has not been a single person convicted so far for killing journalists. The Press Council member asked for provision in the legislation to give compensation to the family of slain journalists and to get faster justice in cases involving attacks on journalists.

    In April 2014, a trial court held three people guilty of raping a woman photo-journalist in Mumbai. But there are many unresolved cases including the murder of Mr. Dey, a crime reporter with a tabloid newspaper, who was shot dead in 2011 in Mumbai. Press Council Member Konsuri demanded aid for the deceased journalist’s family, because in most cases, they were out on the streets, in the absence of assistance both from the state and the media management. Journalists Unions are demanding Rs 10 lakh and a Government Job for the kin of killed journalists.

    Journalist’s organizations and people in general should ask for:

    1. Protect the lives of journalists, whistleblowers, seekers of information, young citizens who comment on social media as they are entitled to guarantee for their lives and liberty as per Articles 21 and 19 of Indian Constitution.
    2. When journalists or citizens are arrested for their expression, the trial should be fast tracked and they should get ample opportunity to prove falsity of the charges or conspiracy behind their implication.
    3. When Journalists or citizens are killed for their writings in media- print, tv or web media, the criminal justice should be fast tracked and the accused should be punished as per the law.
    4. When journalists or citizens are killed while performing their duty of informing the people or rising voice against injustice, their families should be given Rs 10 lakh compensation besides providing a job to the kith or kin.

    The Union and Central Government along with District Collectors should publish annual reports about murders and attacks on journalists, seekers of information, social media writers and whistle blowers and the progress of cases against culprits including provision of job and compensation.

    Madabhushi SridharProfessor Madabhushi Sridhar is a Columnist, Media Law Researcher and Central Information Commissioner.

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