Disturbing Facts for Journos

Gauri Lankesh

Since 1992, 28 Indian journalists have been killed and 96% of these cases are unsolved

By Asit Manohar

There are some disturbing takeaways from the outrage over the murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh. This cold-blooded killing of a fiercely anti-establishment voice ought to lead us to question the claim that India is a liberal democracy. It should compel the media to ask searching questions on why India remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The killing ought to redirect the light on obscure pockets in rural hinterlands where away from the light and glitter of studios, journalists speak the truth at great personal risk. Relentless pressure should be built on the authorities to find the assailants and ensure justice for Lankesh.

But in going about their job, journalists also have a primary duty to remain objective and interpret available data with neutrality. Subject everything to verification. During moments of great emotion (as Lankesh’s killing certainly was) this could be difficult. But in the absence of fairness, objectivity, and balance, there is little to differentiate journalism from propaganda.

But, Gauri Lankesh murder has triggered one more debate into the public domain. As author and columnist Anand Ranganathan pointed out on Twitter, among the 22 Indian Journalists murdered since 2013, Gauri Lankesh was the only one who also wrote in English or appeared in the English media.

But, to the apathy of series of killings of journalists and Gauri Lankesh being one of them, A pattern was readily discovered that it conforms to the killing of other rationalists, and this was held as a “clinching proof” that the RSS or other Hindutva forces were behind it.

Murder is the foulest of crimes. It is the gravest violation of human rights. Any charges related to it, therefore, must also be made in all seriousness and with the weight of facts behind it. These charges cannot arise out of emotion, however tempting the provocation may be. All that the narrative-peddlers had was a piece of logical fallacy that “she was a critic of Right-wing forces, and therefore, she must have been killed by them”.

In the end, the movement — triggered by Lankesh’s murder — in favour of press freedom and freedom of speech and expression, ran the risk of becoming a politically charged rallying pointed against the ruling party at the Centre.

The fight didn’t seem to be aimed at preserving the universal right to dissent, but to preserve only one kind of dissent. Can journalists turn crusaders? Or is taking a political stand the new normal in journalism?

Rather being judgemental on who killed Bengaluru editor, media should come with facts that before Gauri Lankesh was murdered on September 5, 2017, 142 attacks against journalists for “grievous hurt” were registered nationwide over two years to 2015, according to the latest available National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. As many 70 journalists were killed in India over 24 years to 2016, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists, a nonprofit.

As many 73 people were arrested for the 142 attacks, revealed in NCRB data quoted in this reply to the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) by Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, minister of state for home, on July 26, 2017.

Lankesh was killed on September 5, 2017, after attackers fired seven shots at her. Four missed and two hit Lankesh in her chest and one on the forehead, India Today reported on September 6, 2017. Lankesh was the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike a Kannada tabloid and a critic of Hindu right-wing ideologies and organisations.

The NCRB started collecting data on attack on journalists since 2014, the minister said in his reply. Cases were registered for “grievous hurt” under sections 325, 326, 326A & 326B of the Indian Penal Code.

Of 142 cases registered, 114 were reported in 2014 and 28 in 2015.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) registered the most cases (64) over two years but only four persons have been arrested. UP was followed by Madhya Pradesh (26) and Bihar (22). The three states accounted for 79% of all cases registered across the country. Madhya Pradesh reported the most arrests (42): 10 in 2014 and 32 in 2015.

As many as 70 journalists were killed in India between 1992 and 2016, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists, a nonprofit. The motives behind killing 40 journalists are confirmed: 27 were murdered and 13 were killed on dangerous assignments. As per Indiaspends, 55 percent of the journalists murdered since 1992 were political reporters, a fact which may astonish the media fraternity too. Indiaspends further reveals that out of 28 journalists murdered since 1992 in India, 96 percent of the case has remained unsolved.

In an incident similar to the shooting of Lankesh, a Mumbai- based journalist Jyotirmoy Dey was killed in June 2011 by men on motorcycles firing several shots. Dey, who covered the underworld, succumbed to five bullet injuries between his chest and head. The trial is still underway. Similarly, Bihar journalist Rajdev Ranjan was killed in Siwan when the crime reporter was driving his motorbike.

 India was ranked 136 of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), an advocacy.

“Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals….journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent,” RWB said in the report.

 “The sources of RWB in India are ambiguous, and the sampling is quite random in nature which does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India,” Ahir said in his reply to Rajya Sabha.