Pitamber KaushikIn July last year the Paris-based non-profit organization ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF) published ‘World Press Freedom Index Incident Report’. The RSF warned India, which was indexed at 138/180 in the World Press Freedom Index. As per the report India had dropped by two ranks and the negative trend continued, anticipating that it would drop further.
The RSF 2018 Report indicated India to be one of the deadliest countries for journalists, in absolute terms, having the fifth highest death toll of all nations, second only to one non-conflict-ridden country Mexico. War-torn or inter conflict-prone and insurgency-riddled nations Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, lead the tally. West Asia had the highest cumulative toll of journalistic fatalities, detainments, prolonged imprisonments, hostage-keeping and disappearances, posing as potentially most unsafe zone globally. India's demographically-comparable neighbour China, on the other hand fared near-clean in terms of deaths, but was dismal, with 60 confirmed press detainees in the calendar year, while the Arab states exceeded this, owing to authoritarian regimes.
‘Reporters Without Borders’ is an eminent independent NGO, based in Paris, which proclaims to "defend and promote journalistic freedom and independence worldwide".
Half of the death toll reported by RSF was in stable, peacetime nations. While Mexico, reprised its previous sordid distinction, it was the USA's maiden feature amongst the top five.
In the context of India, RSF's 24-page précis-booklet entitled "Worldwide Round-Up of journalists killed, detained, held hostage, or missing in 2018", stated:
The report stated that journalists live in fear in India. Six were murdered this year (2018) and many others were the targets of murder attempts, physical attacks, and threats. Hate campaigns against journalists, including incitement to murder, are common on social networks and are fed by troll armies linked to the nationalist right. Those who murder journalists often use extremely barbaric methods.
A village chief in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar killed two journalists, Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh, in retaliation for their reporting by deliberately running them down with his SUV on 25 March. On the same day in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, a dump truck was used to run down and kill Sandeep Sharma, a journalist who had been investigating a local “Sand Mafia.” At least six journalists have been killed in the past three years by criminal organizations involved in the illegal extraction of sand or other illegal mining".
The mass-incitement against, and subsequent assassination of right-wing-critical anti-establishment journalist Gauri Lankesh and popular outrage against British documentary-filmmaker and journalist Leslie Udwin, previously caught headlines in International media. The memory of the infamous broad-daylight killing of investigative journalist Rajdeo Ranjan in the crime-notorious and gang-prone Bihar still lingers fresh in public memory, some of whose perpetrators and alleged co-conspirators are either still at large, or enjoy sanctuary. A sharp and unmistakably inflective rise has been observed under the incumbent government, attributed to disruption of law and order by passive sanctuary-grant to radical outfit goons and motley self-stylised vigilante factions, owing to the right-wing, majoritarian, nationalist ideology professed by the ruling party.
In total, all over the globe, 80 fatal casualties, 60 personnel taken-hostage, 3 missing and 348 detainees were reported in course of 2018. Alarmingly, a little over three-fifths of the deaths, were not in-field or on-ground but identity-motivated that is the victims were deliberately targeted, by virtue of their being a journalist, while the rest were regardless (indiscriminately slain, notwithstanding their designation as men-of-press), mostly comprising those in battlefronts or potential conflict and combat zones.
The most prominent issues that got highlighted was when eminent veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in Saudi Arabian consulate. Khashoggi, who was Editor-in-Chief of Al-Arab News Channel and a columnist of The Washington Post was assassinated in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The outrage over Khashoggi’s assassination was unprecedented, that had an impact on the foreign relations of Saudi Arabia with several powerful nations in Middle East, Europe and America.
The murder of the vocal Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, and imprisonments and disappearances of several journalists covering the state-backed Rohingya purge and massacre in Myanmar were also highlighted by the report.
Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were murdered in a targeted killing on 21 February 2018. Kuciak was investigating organized crime. His death brought down the government in Slovakia.
With the reporters battling life to unearth the truth, the governments need to cooperate instead of creating obstacles in their paths.