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
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
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.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950
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