Veteran journalists call for unity to defend media freedom (Photo Credit: Social Media)
Various speakers at a discussion here on Monday (July 5, 2022) on the theme of “Creeping Infringement of Media Freedom and Assault on Personal Liberty of Journalists” called upon media persons all over the country to unite despite differences in their political beliefs to fight the assault on media freedom in the country.
The discussion was organized at the Press Club of India in association with Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association, Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), Digipub News India Foundation, and Working News Cameramen Association.
Initiating the discussion, veteran journalist and former Editor of Business Standard T N Ninan said the primary problem with the media was that people working in this industry were not united on one platform.
Stating that it was not possible without unity to fight the kind of assault that the media has been facing in the last few years, he stressed the need for the entire media fraternity to agree on one common issue of Press Freedom by giving up whatever differences were there among themselves.
As the establishment is slapping stringent provisions of law against media persons, Mr. Ninan favoured formation of a legal aid cell to fight the cases of individual journalists who themselves did not have adequate resources to defend themselves against the government in a court of law. As for expenses for the legal battle, he advised creating a legal aid fund through crowdfunding.
Mr. Ninan also suggested setting up a panel of advocates willing to help journalists being targeted by the establishment. Pointing out that media bodies should go beyond mere issuing of statements, he exhorted media persons to come out of their comfort zones and be prepared for a battle to defend the cause of media freedom.
Stating that there was a full-blown attack on media freedom in the country, founding editor of The Wire news portal Siddharth Varadrajan pointed out that the arrest of journalist Mohammed Zubair has captured the essence of all that is wrong with the Government.
He said that the reason for the arrest of Zubair is that the AltNews website, a fact-checking website of which he is a co-founder with Pratik Sinha, frequently exposed the claims of the regime. The AltNews debunked the false claims of the government and hence, it became an obstacle to the false propaganda of the government. So, the regime first slandered the AltNews website and then arrested Zubair because he also happens to be a Muslim.
A Muslim journalist was the other day prevented from flying abroad to be present at the release of her book. So, there is a method in the madness employed by the regime, he added. He said that the only charge against Zubair is that he tweeted four years ago a clip from a forty-year-old film that is said to have injured the religious feelings of a community. And he was booked after four years of his tweet, based on a complaint made through a Twitter handle with a false name who is reportedly an activist of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha. So, there is an ecosystem that is targeting journalists in the country. Since Section 153A and Section 295A cannot take the case far, the police have now levelled the money-laundering charge against him.
Mr. Varadarajan warned that if this is allowed, then it will be replicated with other journalists and editors in future. He also suggested the need for journalists to unite and prepare a team of lawyers to defend media persons in court. Mr. Varadarajan and several journalists from his news portal are themselves facing court cases on the frivolous ground. President of PCI Umakant Lakhera pointed out that journalists were attacked under a plan.
While Covid restrictions have been removed all over the country, this restriction continues in Parliament and journalists are not allowed to enter Parliament to cover the proceedings of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Stating that Zubair’s arrest amounts to violation of human rights, Mr Lakhera said that he has been targeted based on a ‘ benaami’ tweet and efforts are now being made to demonize the entire community of journalists.
Stating that efforts are being made to create fear among journalists all over the country, PCI President said that this was a very dangerous trend intended to crush media. If this happened, there would be total anarchy in the country.
PCI general secretary Vinay Kumar read out a resolution passed unanimously by those attending the discussion. The resolution expressed serious concern over a plethora of FIRs registered against journalists.