Crisis in Journalism: Rise of deaths of Journalists

19 May 2021

Curtain Hug

Violent attacks against journalists are not uncommon. A reporter in Mexico for the newspaper El Mundo was beheaded brutally in Veracruz in 2020. Similarly, an editor of the news website Punto x Punto Noticias was dismembered in Acapulco. An Indian reporter, Rakesh Singh of the newspaper Rashtriya Swaroop, was scorched to death in December 2020 in Uttar Pradesh. He was targeted because he criticized the corrupt local authorities, who then sent men to kill him. UNESCO urged Indian authorities to properly investigate his suspicious death.

The CPJ states murder of journalists as “an intentional attack on a journalist because of his work”, in the Global Impunity Index. The Index doesn’t consider cases of death because of combats or other risky assignments. In a 2018 report, CPJ highlighted that 14 states in India failed to implement punishments for the murders of journalists. This breeds an environment of censorship.

The targeted killings of journalists are the highest form of censorship. There have been many murders of journalists. This is a ruthless way of silencing their voices and opinions.

What is being done to ensure the safety of journalists?
At the international level, UNESCO promotes safety for journalists. It also focuses on tackling the impunity of people who attack these journalists. UNESCO supports freedom of the press on different multimedia programs.

Journalists are often targeted because of their job. They are vulnerable, as sometimes they deal with controversial information. Thus, criminal organizations, security personnel, military, local authorities, and police target them. The attacks on journalists can vary in nature but are most often violent. These involve harassment, murder, abduction, illegal arrest, and detention. Impunity for attacks against journalists aggravates the violence they face. This self-censorship prevents people from getting the right information. Thus, affecting the freedom of the press. This has a direct influence on the UN’s efforts to protect human rights and promote peace. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Impunity designed a structure with actions to curb the issue of press freedom. These actions are policy-making and standard-setting, raising awareness about the issues faced, reporting and monitoring cases, building capacity, conducting academic research, and building coalitions and partners. This plan by the UN is a holistic approach that involves multiple stakeholders such as UN bodies, civil organizations, media houses, etc.

The rise in the death numbers of Indian journalists is blamed on the journalists themselves. The loss of media credibility is often used as an excuse by oppressors to silence the voices and dissents of journalists. However, in recent times, the trust in media has increased according to many surveys. Indian journalists are often subjected to false defamation cases to oppress their voices.

The Indian constitution does not mention the freedom of the press. This causes it to be violated by many powerful officials. There are hardly any laws to protect journalists from online harassment. Some countries such as Canada have implemented laws to protect both non-journalists and journalists from cyberbullying. The protecting Canadians from Online Crime act established in 2015 prohibit online bullying.

In India, the Maharashtra government passed a bill in 2017 that warrants the protection of journalists. It is the first of a kind law passed in India. According to this law, the attack on a media person on duty can lead to a punishment of 3 years. A fine of Rs 50,000 will also be imposed. These acts of violence will be non-bailable. Officers not lower than the rank of assistant commissioner will handle the investigation for these cases. States such as Bihar and Chhattisgarh are also working to bring such legislation into action.
The assault on journalists needs to stop. However, this will require fundamental reforms in the institutional and legal systems of the country.