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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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(Published in on 15 June, 2011, retrieved from

(Image Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this photograph is prohibited.)

Martin Amis once wrote a story called Career Move in which poets have home gyms and date exotic women, while screen writers post hopeful letters to distinguished magazine editors.
The story comes to mind when one reads of planned murders of unarmed journalists and activists, and contrasts the protection given to the people who fight crime with the convoys and armoured vehicles that ferry politicians and bureaucrats.
Up to the millennium, every aspiring journalist knew he or she would never have money or clout; journalism was not a profession, it was a calling. It was practically a judiciary, presenting evidence, judging, and sentencing wrongdoers.
But the media boom made the profession glamorous, the names famous, and the salaries humongous. There are newspaper editors whose paycheques would trump those of the CEOs of IT giants. Ironically, this rise in financial and social stature only seems to have compounded the threats they face.
Nobody likes scribes. The bad ones walk up to bereaved families and make polite enquiries about their mood. The good ones are hated by politicians because they’re impartial unless they’ve been bought, and by criminals who haven’t entered politics because they expose their activities.
So why does a tribe that knows it is universally hated, and knows its stories will most likely be wrapped around peanuts the next day, risk so much? For the pursuit of truth? For a corruption-free world? For the love of ideals?
The mourners at Mid-Day Special Investigations Editor Jyotirmoy Dey’s funeral, and the journalists who took out a march to present their demands to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, included his colleagues, friends and protégés; but there were others too, who were afraid they would be next.
In response to their calls for a CBI probe and assurance of security for journalists, all Chavan could offer was consideration of a bill to make attacks on journalists a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
Dey’s murder was reminiscent of the killing of RTI activist Amit Jethwa less than a year ago, in Ahmedabad. At the time, police speculated that Jethwa was killed because of his campaign against alleged illegal mining. Now, police speculate that Dey may have been shot because of his reportage on the oil mafia.
While killings of journalists may not seem too common an occurrence in India, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says there have been seven murders of reporters in the last decade in this country, which have gone unsolved or unpunished. And this figure doesn’t include the journalists who die on the job, while reporting from conflict zones or covering street protests.

Most of the other countries on the list compiled by the CPJ are practically war zones, or run by dictatorial governments.
When Pakistani journalist Syed Shahzad was found to have been tortured and killed on May 31, the news came as a shock. But we’re talking about a country where a man was shot by security forces on camera, and allowed to bleed to death.

Iran is notorious for detaining journalists in Tehran’s Evin prison. The sentencing of Sri Lankan journalist J S Tissainayagam to 20 years in jail was revoked in the face of international outcry. However, these are countries where journalists are often seen enemies of the state.

We live in one where politicians smile into our living rooms on every prime time news show, and where crime reporters have close friends in the police force.
While the media has sometimes played an ugly role in milking tragic occurrences for their entertainment value, it is undeniable that the media has been successful in exposing poor governance and injustice. From the Jessica Lall case to the 2G scam, it has been instrumental in shaping public opinion and pressing for legal action. During the Emergency, newspapers even made a statement with silence, by leaving blank spaces to symbolise censorship.
And yet, we’re left with the knowledge that an illustrious career spanning two decades has ended with the tears of a mother and sister – made public by photojournalists whose voyeuristic instincts wouldn’t grant the family privacy in mourning.
Those images will fuel sit-ins and fasts over the next few days, maybe weeks.  But unless a system is put in place to provide security to journalists, either by the government or the media houses they work for, people will run out of reasons to join this field. Because to guard democracy, a free press is not enough; we need a press that does not have to be afraid to be free.


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