IFJ Releases Situation Report on Journalism in India’s Insurgency Areas

The International Federation of Journalists released a situation

report on the challenges facing journalists in areas of

India affected by a long-running Maoist insurgency. The report is the outcome

of consultations with and inputs received from working journalists in three

states of special concern: Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.


The report reflects a broad consensus among

journalists from these three states that the hazards for journalists have been

mounting in recent years, with levels of violence increasing and the demands

from the Maoist cadre for favourable and uncritical coverage becoming unrelenting.


Splits within the Maoist ranks and the tendency for security

agencies to make strategic use of one faction against another, also presents an

additional element of hazard for journalists.


There is widespread suspicion among journalists in

these three states that their phones are constantly tapped because Maoist

cadres often call them on their cell-phones to provide updates and opinions.


Also, since journalists generally encounter little

problem in accessing Maoist operational areas, police personnel have on

occasion been known to use media identities to infiltrate these areas for

intelligence gathering. This makes journalists liable to acts of retribution by

the Maoists.


Maintaining a sense of proportion is a constant

challenge since every Maoist action is magnified in its impact by the prevailing

atmosphere of fear. A general strike call for instance, could emanate from

operationally weak quarters of the Maoist insurgency, but would paralyse life

in large parts of these states, even if featured as a small news story in the

local media.


The insurgency has also skewed the system of rewards

and incentives for journalists. A journalist who reports on sensational stories

from the Maoist operational areas would gain recognition while another

reporting on the general state of poverty, deprivation and the poor state of

social services, which are the background conditions in which the Maoist

rebellion has taken root, would gain little recognition.


Police personnel in these states are also known to use

the special powers they have been conferred to crack down on critical

journalists, often using the most draconian provisions of the law such as those

pertaining to sedition.


Apart from these hazards, journalists work in

conditions of negligible professional security. Few of them have letters of

appointment and they mostly work at salary levels well below the subsistence

minimum. Most of them are required to multi-task and perform the function of mobilising advertisements for their media, severely impairing their independence

and ability to take a critical stance towards administrative officials and

local notables with substantial ad budgets at their disposal.


The system of issuing press credentials in these

states remains opaque and unprofessional. Media owners are known to dominate

the process and to corner available quotas in the issue of official press

accreditation cards, which enable quick access to official spaces.


At a meeting held in August to discuss the main

findings of inquiries in the three states, journalists adopted a campaign that

put forward a set of specific demands, including insurance cover for all

journalists assigned to work in districts of active Maoist insurgency, and

special credentials for media personnel, including if necessary district-level

accreditation for these individuals.


It was proposed that journalists’ unions in these

states should launch a campaign to generate public awareness on the need for

the media to work in an environment free of fear. To this end, they would seek

to secure a public declaration from all sides in the conflict, that media would

be granted unfettered access to all sites of news importance.


A safety code suitable to local situations would

evolve and coordination between editorial departments and the reporters in the

field would improve to ensure that news headlines, layouts and presentation do

not misrepresent realities and create avoidable risks.


Finally, unions in all these states have resolved to

expand their membership and to provide unrepresented journalists a platform. Until

such time that issues of accreditation are resolved, the unions have undertaken

to campaign strongly to ensure that the identity cards they issue are accepted

by all sides as adequate proof of media credentials.


The IFJ extends its full support to this campaign. The

IFJ urges that conflicts in these states be resolved through an assertion of

basic democratic norms and recognition of the role that journalists play as

facilitators of the democratic right to know.


The report can be found here.



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