“Let them learn to argue using words instead of threats.”
In light of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh’s cold-blooded murder–she was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on September 5th–many people have taken to social media and newsroom discussions to opine on just how truly democratic our nation is. Has our right to dissent and our freedom of speech been rendered null and void? Gauri Lankesh’s assassination is not just a single unfortunate, inhumane event but one in a series of incidents where great thinkers and voices of reason and rationale have been forever silenced in a similar manner. Silenced, with no impending justice to be met.
The media, heralded as the fourth pillar of democracy is under brutal attack. This incident has now become a trigger for journalists around the country to raise their voice and question their own safety. Is calling out an ideology something ‘one must do at their own risk’? Is this just another professional hazard? Is there no room for discourse? There is still some amount of galvanisation that happens with the media in the bigger cities of India as seen in the protests today in Mumbai and at the The Press Club in New Delhi. However, we must remember that there are journalists in parts of the country receiving daily threats to their life with no support of any kind at their disposal.
While veterans in the industry might have developed a mechanism to deal with such repeated incidents, and are coming out in hoards to stand up against the assassination of Lankesh, younger entrants into the field of reporting and journalism are very likely to be shaken to the core. To find out how safe young journalists and reporters feel when they go out on field, we spoke to a few covering the protest of Gauri Lankesh’s killing yesterday in Mumbai. This is what they had to say.
Santhya, 27 years old, News X
“We are the ones who actually go in the field. We are the ones meeting these people. We don’t just sit in our AC cabins and call these people over the phone. We go face to face and meet them, and in whichever way, are more exposed to danger in any form. The point over here is that if someone will not agree to whatever you’re saying, you are directly under threat and that is a shameful thing to happen in a democracy. Democracy is about sharing ideas. If you are being killed for sharing your ideas, are you really living in a democracy? It’s scary.
When it comes to what we can do to feel safer as journalists, it comes down to setting examples. What they did - whether it is Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi or Lankesh - they are simply setting examples, whoever the murderers are. The investigations are still on, and who knows when a judgement will be passed. Whoever did it, has essentially said “either you shut up, or we’ll shut you up.” In the same way, the government, media houses or any other body of authority has to set an example and bring these people to justice. Look at any of the cases - what substantial development has there been? They know they can get away with this. And that offers us no protection.”
Geetanjali Gurlhosur, 21, Hindustan Times
“Am I scared? When I get involved in the details of the story I’m working on and talk to the stakeholders, any fear or anxiety I may have goes away. The story itself is what drives me and gives me courage because I don’t think about the consequences. In fact in the first or second month of my career, a local corporator tried to intimidate me by threats of a defamation suit. Her threats and demands for a public apology scared me at first but I didn’t give in because I knew I’d done nothing wrong. We need supportive bosses in the industry who will give you a reason to fight for your principles. From the government, all I ask is tolerance to free press. Also, only when the government is tolerant of the free press can they guarantee our safety.”
Anuj Shrivastav, 27, Hindu World
“Being a ‘safe journalist’ is a paradox because the kind of work that we do, it is not like a regular job. Journalism is a responsibility and this is something that so many people do not understand. We are in a country where the voice of dissent is labelled as a ‘crime’, so the threat to life will always be there, which can only be escaped if the entire community becomes like-minded, or agrees to disagree, but that is a utopian thought. If we as a community of journalists become more powerful than the community of murderers , then we will stay safe.
When it comes to what the government can do to make journalists feel safer, then my answer is it can do nothing. Because if we ask the criminals to file a case against themselves, then that is obviously not going to happen. However, media houses should certainly take steps to protect their journalists. They have quite a lot of power.”
Danila Yershov, 27, The Hindu
“India is still much safer than my own country, Ukraine. It’s definitely scary and distrurbing, but it’s nothing that can let my spirit down or stop me from reporting the truth, especially in the case of this event.”
Sanket Jain, 21, Independent Journalist
“There are certain stories through which you try to highlight what is wrong and report directly from the heart of conflict. However, how safe I am is very difficult to answer. Obviously, I can’t say I am completely safe. There lies a tremendous amount of risk when you are doing stories which are in the spirit of the common people.
However, that doesn’t stop good journalists from doing their work. If you look at the reports, you will find that a lot of journalists have been killed. It’s becoming more and more difficult now to work on such stories. However, with every voice that has been silenced, there are millions of voices which will rise up.
As journalists, we can’t gauge safety beyond a measure. Our job is to report what is right, not spread propaganda or write suiting to a particular tune. Media houses should highlight such stories and make people aware about how unsafe it has become for independent journalists to report. Obviously, the question of security comes in, but media houses can’t go beyond a certain limit, because we are not the police or government.”
Disha Shah, 26, Mirror Now
“During protests like these, where there are so many people from the media, there is a feeling of not being safe. We know that whenever we raise our voice against a political party, we have to face the music that comes with voicing those opinions. At the same time, strict action needs to be taken for crimes against the media and journalists.”
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