Media bodies express concern at vilification of journalist over unbiased reporting, urge police, admin to take note of threats

ITANAGAR, Apr 21: The Arunachal Press Club (APC), the Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists (APUWJ) and the Arunachal Electronic & Digital Media Association (AEDMA) have expressed concern over the plethora of online attacks that a senior member of the press has been subjected to for her unbiased reporting.
At the end of the third week of April, three video clips began circulating on WhatsApp, in two of which a man claims to have gone out hunting in search of meat because he could not find any since the lockdown began. Having failed to do so, the man himself said he found a snake.
In another video, the man and two others with him apologized to the authorities, saying that they do not consume snake meat on a regular basis, and that they did what they did because they had no food to eat.
In the 18 April edition of The Arunachal Times, a report by the newspaper’s deputy editor, Tongam Rina, on the alleged rising instances of wildlife hunting in the state during the lockdown was published under the headline, ‘Wildlife hunting on spike, say forest officials’.
In the same report, under the sub-headline, ‘3 who killed king cobra identified’, Tongam reported that the state’s forest department had already identified the three men in the video and was looking to arrest them for violating the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
That was the entire gist of the report. Nowhere in it has any allegation been made by the journalist, or any accusation of wrongdoing levelled, apart from mentioning what the men in the videos themselves claimed to have done.
Now, it has come to light that Tongam’s reporting has become the subject of intense hatred and venomous language directed at her, even by some people who are perceived as being of intellectually sound mind.
“It should be noted here that the report was published after the videos were already circulated by a sea of people and had already attracted the attention of the state forest department, which is why the department was already looking for the men in the video,” the media bodies said in a joint statement.
It was not because of the report that the department jumped into action. By all accounts, by the evening of 18 April, department officials were already searching for the men in the videos.
In fact, even before the report appeared in The Arunachal Times, it had already been uploaded to another Arunachal-based Facebook page a day before. (It has since been taken it down.)
What appears to have got a vocal section of the online audience during this lockdown period upset is that the news made its way to some national-level media houses with inflammatory headlines, and that students living outside are now being subjected to racist comments.
“It should be noted that the inflammatory headline that upset people in the first place had appeared on a national-level TV news channel’s website (which has since been edited), and not in any local publication,” the media bodies said.
“We would like to state in clear terms that the intention of a news report, especially written by a veteran journalist like Tongam, is never to malign any individual or community. It is certainly never intended to encourage racist behaviour which a large majority of the Indian population already practice and will continue to, unless it is taught to people to respect others’ cultures,” they said.
“What has shocked us most is how a number of people have taken to cyber-bullying to express disagreement instead of engaging in a discussion. So far, Tongam has been subjected to scores of online abuse of personal nature. In at least one now-deleted post, a Facebook user had edited her photo to make an obscene image, violating the Information Technology Act, 2000,” the APC, the APUWJ and the AEDMA stated.
Apart from the visually graphic memes that the burgeoning troll army of Arunachal has produced in the past 24 hours, Tongam has been threatened with physical violence on several posts online, some justifying the 2012 attempt on her life, when she had been shot for her reporting work, and instigating that she should be shot again for this latest report.
“We urge the police and the administration to take note of such threats being made against the life of a journalist who has been at the forefront of human and animal rights during her entire journalistic career.
“Need we remind those online trollers that Tongam Rina has helped highlight issues affecting people for years and ignited governments to act upon them? To subject her to such abuse is completely uncalled for and goes against the basic fibre of humanity,” they said.
“We encourage everyone making these personal attacks to actually read the article in question and ask yourselves in what manner it is accusatory of the persons in the videos and/or inflammatory in any manner,” the media bodies suggested.