Prominent Indian journalists and global advocacy groups have called for a national plan to protect reporters after a second journalist was found burnt to death on June 22, amid concerns that media freedom has come under newer pressures, some of it allegedly state-directed.
Reporters who expose corruption or mafia activities, especially ones working with the regional press, are as vulnerable to violence as those in countries with the worst press-freedom records, data collated by HT shows. India ranks 136 among 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
The brutal murders this month of two journalists - both uncovered criminal activities and were set on fire - have been condemned by the government, but editors said authorities are yet to take the tough measures needed to protect reporters.
The statutory Press Council of India (PCI), which has both regulatory functions and a watchdog role to protect journalists, has launched multiple investigations within its mandate into the killings. According to the PCI, 79 journalists were murdered in the past two decades, but with very few convictions.
“The killings are deplorable. Depending on the final reports, we will make appropriate recommendations to the government,” PCI chairman Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad told HT.According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, India has "repeatedly failed to advance justice in the cases of (killed) journalists working for local print publications".
Journalists also said they were worried about attempts to muzzle press freedom. “During the Emergency, the enemy was identifiable. Today, it is a hydra-headed monster present everywhere, in every political party,” Rajdeep Sardesai, a well-known television journalist told HT.
He was among several who sought a national safety plan at a meet convened by Press Club of India. Last year, the Editors Guild of India had accused the Modi government of “diminishing access to information to journalists”.
In response to the violence, Reporters Without Borders has also called for an action plan for the safety of journalists in a statement. “We need to tell society that our freedom as journalists is important for your freedom,” said Ravish Kumar, a prime-time anchor for NDTV India.