Journalists continue to remain vulnerable

Scribes in India are dying of Covid-19 or are being silenced by assailants, reports Nava Thakuria

Serious journalism in India continues to be a dangerous profession and scribes here remain habituated with various forms of vulnerability be it physical safety, job security, social protection or health disaster. The vast country loses a number of working journalists to assailants every year and a larger section routinely face retrenchments, arbitrary redundancy or humiliating atmosphere in their workplaces. The media now start receiving brickbats from their valued audiences. But lately the Covid-19 pandemic emerges as a serious medical emergency.

For records, India loses more media persons to the novel Coronavirus outbreak than the physical killers in the last eight months of 2020.

Thousands of journalists were infected with the virus in different States as they continue to play the role of Covid-warriors along with the on-duty doctors, nurses, sanitation workers and police personnel.

Casualties within the media fraternity because of Covid-19 start growing every week from different corners of the country. Lately, a young television journalist from Uttar Pradesh (UP) succumbed to novel Coronavirus infections. Hailed from Kanpur, Neelanshu Shukla (30) was associated with AajTak and died on 31 August 2020 in the hospital. Earlier, a veteran journalist from Maharashtra and editor of PalgharTimes, Ashok Churi died at a Palghar based hospital, who later tested positive for Covid-19. Similarly, a young photo-journalist from Punjab (Jai Deep) working for a Patiala based newspaper succumbed to Coronavirus related ailments.

Earlier two Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh) based journalists namely Madhusudan Reddy and M Parthasarathy died of the virus infections.

Tamil Nadu television reporter Ramanathan and Orissa journalists namely Simanchal Panda, K Ch Ratnam & Priyadarshi Patnaik also lost their battles against the virus. New Delhi based scribe Tarun Sisodia killed himself undergoing treatment at AIIMS.

The printer-publisher of AsomiyaKhabar (Rantu Das) died at a Guwahati hospital, who later tested positive for Covid-19. The casualty list also includes veteran journalist Javed Jivani (Maharashtra), news videographer E Velmurugan (TN), news presenter Davinder Pal Singh (Chandigarh), television scribe Manoj Kumar (Telengana), journalist Pankaj Kulashrestha (UP) and photo-journalist Ronny Roy (West Bengal).

Meanwhile, the pandemic has virtually crashed the mainstream media industry. Worried owners have already stopped publishing hundreds of physical newspapers and those surviving managements closed down their editions in different localities, reduced the number of pages, went to cut salaries and even laid off employees including senior journalists citing the reason of shrinking advertisement revenues. Only a few editors could raise voices against the arbitrary retrenchments of managements and the rest continues to carry on with humiliations in work places.

When many employed journalists in Guwahati turned positive for Covid-19, the concerned newspapers, news channels and news portals even avoided making news out of the development. Some infected media persons however made personal revelation in the social media. Various organizations including Journalists’ Forum Assam (JFA) criticized the media outlets for their selective reporting over the issue commenting, “One need not to remind that it is the duty and responsibility for media outlets to report correctly about the Covid-19 warriors including the victims within the fraternity.”

What is amazing that Assam (read State health minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma), unlike the other States of India, used to name all individuals who turned Covid-19 positive and the local media, precisely the satellite news channels telecast their names and even photographs & visuals subject to the availability in the archives.

Lately when over a thousand persons test positive for Covid-19 every day, the news channels start selectively using the name & visuals of Corona positive persons. The logic behind it was that one should be publicly named & photographed after testing positive for Covid-19 to make others who came in contact with the concerned individual in the last few days for necessary pre-cautions. It was termed as a social responsibly as the concerned group of people could take it as caveat and go for necessary screenings. But shockingly when the scribes and media workers tested positive for Covid-19, no satellite channels or newspapers made revelations that their employees were also infected by the virus.

But what would have wrong, if the editors could name their employees as corona warriors! After all, testing positive for Covid-19 by anyone is quite normal and nobody can term it as a crime or a shameful act.

Rather, the editors should (could) have done it as a pride that their employees worked in the pandemic to get infected by the virus. They might have failed to convince the owners that it would finally exhibit the irresponsibility of news channels and newspapers in regards to social responsibilities.

By now, the robust media fraternity in India witnesses murder of seven journalists in separate incidents. The latest sad news broke from UP, where television journalist Ratan Singh was killed by his neighbours. Singh (45), who used to work for Hindi news channel Sahara Samay from Phephna, Ballia locality was targeted on the night of 24 August. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced 10 lakh as ex-gratia and the police promptly arrested few suspected individuals.

Prior to it, a young Assamese scribe was murdered on  8 August at his rented office in Tinsukia town of eastern Assam. Bijendeep Tanti (32), who was associated with a private channel (NewsTimeAssam), ran a facebook portal DinPratidinNortheast simultaneously. The young reporter hailing from tea-plantation families was found lying dead with severe injuries on his neck. The police have arrested the prime accused in the murder and the lady reportedly confessed the crime.

Weeks back, Madhya Pradesh journalist Sunil Tiwari (35), who worked for a Gwalior-based Hindi newspaper, was beaten, stabbed and shot to death in Niwari locality. Tiwari was returning home in the evening hours of 22 July, when he was attacked by a group of criminals. The police arrested few individuals suspecting their role in the murder, against whose illogical activities Tiwari continuously raised voices through a number of newspaper articles.

Same day, UP journalist Vikram Joshi (45) succumbed to his injuries in a Ghaziabad hospital. Joshi, who worked for local newspaper JanSagarToday, was attacked on 20 July by a group of goons and shot at him in front of his two minor daughters as he had lodged a police complaint against some local criminals who were involved in various incidents of eve-teasing. The police arrested nine persons suspecting their physical involvement in the murder.

Months back, a digital channel reporter of Andhra Pradesh was murdered at Nandigama locality on 29 June. Ganta Naveen (27) developed enmity with some influential persons in his locality and they are suspected to organized the crime. The police arrested eight accused individuals in connection with the murder. Another news portal reporter from Orissa (Aditya Kumar Ransingh, 40) was killed on 16 February in Banki locality. The police arrested two criminals involved with Ransingh’s murder, with whom he maintained bitter relationships.

The brutal murder of brave reporter Shubham Mani Tripathi from UP shocked the media society as he continued to report against illegal sand miners even after receiving death-threats from unknown individuals. Tripathi (25), a born patriot who worked for Kanpur-based Hindi daily KampuMail, was shot dead in Brahmanagar, Unnao locality on 19 June by two shooters as he was returning home on a two-wheeler. The police arrested three individuals suspecting their role in the killing.

India as a whole witnessed nine incidents of journo-killing in 2019, but only one incident factually emerged as a case of targeted murder.

The victim (K Satyanarayana, 45), who worked for Telugu daily AndhraJyothy, faced the fate because of his journalistic exercises. He was hacked to death on 15 October. Andhra journalists informed Satyanarayana was targeted in earlier occasions too. Similarly, Bihar’s scribe Pradeep Mandal was also targeted by miscreants for his coverage against the liquor mafia in DainikJagaran, but he survived.