The murders of journalists Rajdeo Ranjan in Bihar and Akhilesh Pratap Singh in Jharkhand within 24 hours of each other confirmed a 2015 international report that named India among the three most dangerous countries for media personnel.
Since 1992, 64 journalists have been killed in India with reporters exposing corruption the most hunted, says a compilation by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Most of them died in smaller towns where graft is rampant and exposing it means earns the wrath of powerful politicians and industrialists. Earlier this year, a group backed by the Chhattisgarh government forced journalists Malini Subramaniam and some lawyers out of the Maoist-affected Bastar region. Activists also said the state administration was muzzling free speech after three journalists were arrested on allegedly flimsy charges.
The high death rate of journalists in the country is only lower than war-torn Iraq and Syria. India is the deadliest nation for reporters in Asia, more than Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The poor record is primarily because of an absence of any mechanism to protect journalists. The Press Council of India (PCI) is virtually toothless with its recommendations not binding on any authority. “It’s a matter of grave concern that three journalists were killed in India in the last four months and another died in a tragic accident while on the line of duty,” said PCI chief justice (retd) Chandramouli Kumar Prasad.
The third killing this year was the daylight murder of 32-year-old Karun Mishra, the bureau chief of local newspaper Jansandesh Times in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. He had reported on dangerous business --- illegal mining -- and his murder case is still unsolved.
- India ranks 133 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index
- The rankings are an indicator of the independence afforded to scribes in different countries
- In the 2016 report, released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), India’s position improved by three spots from the 136th position it held last year
- The report shows that Europe has the freest media
- Among India’s neighbours, Pakistan ranks 147, Sri Lanka 141, Afghanistan 120, Bangladesh 144, Nepal 105 and Bhutan 94; China is ranked at 176 — one of the worst in the world
Last year, freelance journalist Jagendra Singh was allegedly burnt alive by police and goons reportedly sent by Uttar Pradesh minister Ram Murti Verma in Shahjahanpur. The reason: Singh’s prominent coverage to the alleged rape of an anganwadi worker by Verma. Only after the chilling murder were the minister and others booked.
A PCI report shows 96 % cases of journalists killing reported in the last two decades have not reached their logical conclusion. The cases have either dragged on in the courts or the investigation has hit a dead end.
“I urge the government of India to enact a special law for protection of journalists and speedy trial of cases of attacks and assaults,” the PCI chief said in a statement.