Two journalists were fatally shot by a disgruntled former colleague during an on-air report in Moneta, Virginia (US) on Wednesday. As the gunshots rang out and the camera fell to the ground, the world got a fleeting glimpse into the dangers facing journalists today.
The sheer brutality of the attack has undoubtedly stunned everyone, particularly reporters who put it all on the line as they venture out in the field unaware of how the public will react. Incidents of violence against journalists are becoming increasingly common and no longer just a fear of war correspondents.
According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, 757 journalists have been murdered on the job since 1992.
Whether it is the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris that claimed 12 lives or a blogger being hacked to death in Dhaka, free speech today is definitely facing a strong and unrelenting enemy. And, India is not immune to this threat.
Recently, Jagendra Singh, a Shahjahanpur-based freelance journalist, was allegedly burned to death for accusing a local politician in Uttar Pradesh of corruption. Days after the incident, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the case that aptly summarised the current state of affairs. “Safety of Indian journalists has long been compromised, particularly in small towns where local authorities can wield enormous power,” it read.
And the power-wielders, it seems, are the riskiest to report on in India. According to another CPJ report, of the 22 Indian journalists murdered since 1992, 45% covered politics while another 45% reported on corruption.
Where violence is not an option, attempts to regulate and censor are rampant. Earlier this month, unhappy with the coverage on the hanging of 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon by three leading news broadcasters, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had issued show-cause notices asking why action should not be taken against them.
Somewhere down the line, we appear to have lost the essence of what press was supposed to be. First Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru had once said, “I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press.”
In a world full of incendiary speeches, flaring tempers and hurt egos, and terms like sickular, presstitute and libtard littering social media timelines, it is perhaps time to step away from the madding crowd and appreciate or at least recognise the contribution of journalists who have laid down their lives to keep this pillar of democracy standing.