Political will needed to halt crimes against journalists: IJU

NEW DELHI, Nov 16: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) drew the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the rising attacks on journalists and urged that all-out efforts be made by his government to end impunity for crimes against journalists.

A free press, said the IJU, is critical for a vibrant democracy and action rather than words would instill confidence in the country’s media, which is under grave threat of intimidation and harassment from various quarters.

In a letter to Modi and Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, the IJU expressed regret that

statistics reveal that many journalists are threatened, attacked, beaten, imprisoned and some even pay with their lives every year for their commitment to freedom of information and democracy.

The IJU along with its member state unions across the country demanded that both the Centre and the states must demonstrate the political will to reduce the level of impunity as well as instruct authorities to refrain from filing sedition cases against journalists critical to their governments.

“The country’s press freedom record,” said the IJU, “is taking a severe beating as its partner, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has included India among five countries (Mexico, Russia, Yemen and Somalia) where impunity rates for crimes against journalists are threatening media freedom.”

The IFJ has demanded through its annual campaign against impunity that governments put an end to it, and to “highlight and denounce crimes targeting journalists that remain unpunished while the masterminds walk free.”

Impunity, said the IFJ, happens when states fail to seek redress for crimes against media workers, including physical and online harassment, threats, attacks, arbitrary arrest, and murder.

“But that’s not all. Impunity also occurs when those who ordered the crimes walk free and remain in power while others are used as scapegoats,” it said.

In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said that, while sharing greetings on the National Press Day with journalists, top functionaries such as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, I&B Minister Javadekar and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have said the Modi government is committed to freedom of press and strongly opposes those who throttle it, “facts give a different story.”

“Not only is there an undeclared censorship, but journalists across the country are facing intimidation and harassment, and worse, at a time of the pandemic where they are risking their lives to carry out their duties to educate the public about Covid-19,” they said.

The IJU said its members are committed to keep reporting and monitoring the cases of attacks and killing of journalists wherever they happen and pushing the authorities to deliver justice. At the same time, it reiterated its twin demands of a media safety law and to replace the Press Council of India with an all-encompassing media council to ensure that journalists can work without fear or favour.