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Pen experiences Pain as Journalists are strategically targeted in Orissa

"As per the international federation of Journalists, there can be no press freedom if journalists exist in conditions of Corruption, Poverty or fear. In Orissa, and most part of India as well, the first two conditions such as corruption and poverty do prevail. And, now the government is creating the third condition of fear by strategically targeting the journalists who alone can help eliminating the corruption and poverty by exposing the loop-holes in the governance system."

HNF Editorial : October 24, 2009

The fourth estate of democracy is suffering terribly in India due to growing atrocities against journalists working, mainly, in states troubled by the Maoist cadres. It seems that the reporters and journalists are being strategically targeted. And, these days, cases of atrocities are growing in the eastern states of India such as Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

The camouflage trick played by West Bengal Police to arrest people’s leader Chakradhar Mahato has been severely criticised by media professionals and intellectuals of the state as it poses serious threat to journalists working in remote outreach places that are in virtual control of Maoists.

When there has been a debate on the camouflage trick, Orissa police and government seem to be targeting journalists in a different fashion.

Laxman Choudhuri, a rural reporter for a popular Oriya daily ‘Sambad’, was arrested on September 20 Sunday from Mohana area in South Orissa on charges that a packet containing eight pieces of Maoist leaflets addressed to him were recovered from a bus conductor. It’s to be noted that the Maoists use to make their plans public by sending such materials or literature to journalists they think fit. A journalist can’t have access to the rebels at his or her own wish. Police must have knowledge of the fact from its own intelligence sources.

But in this case, Police arrested Choudhuri and the conductor on the charges of waging war against the government, sedition, criminal conspiracy and assisting Maoist activities. The scribe was not even allowed to go on PR bond where as the same police had to release Nasir Khan against whom many cases have been filed on allegations that he cheated people by collecting money through internet based network. Crime Branch was desperately behind Nasir since the release of Nasir Produced and acted film Shadow and nabbed him in Cuttack when he visited secretly to consult his advocate.

In contrast, the innocent and poor journalist Laxman has been forwarded to jail and is still waiting for justice. He and his family are undergoing a traumatic situation since the arrest.

Even though a group of Journalists met Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik seeking his intervention to end the misery of a rural reporter who innocently worked to bring the issues of the tribal and downtrodden communities, the Chief Minister could only ask for an enquiry into the matter. However, it’s again a month since CM ordered for an enquiry but of no relief to anybody or any solid proof supporting the charges or claims made by police during the arrest.

These facts suggest that Laxman has been victimised in the case, may be, because of his reports exposing the failures and inabilities of Police in checking the growth of Naxalism; or, police was desperately looking for somebody to book for being involved or linked with the radical left cadres

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Recently, Sriharsa Mishra - a journalist from another Oriya daily ‘AROMV’ - and his colleague Kiran Mishra were not only abused by the Sambalpur District Collector, but also physically assaulted by the security guard and employees of collector’s office. The reason was that the journalists wanted to know why the district collector had not visited the villages of farmers committed suicide and what the administration had done about the series of death of farmers in the district.

The Security guard snatched the Journalist away from the chamber with such a force that he (Journalist Sriharsa) suffered from arm pain for 3 days. An FIR has been lodged by Sriharsa at Jharsuguda Police Station but no action has been initiated on he FIR till date, as it often happens with feudal styled bureaucrats of India.

Reports condemning such attitude of an officer in civil services have been published in various media, but, as it seems, the strong politician-bureaucrat nexus against ordinary people and press is all set to protect the ill behaving bureaucrat by curbing media activism.

These are not the only cases. Few days back, a woman journalist representing a Hindi news channel also felt mentally humiliated with the unexpected reaction of Bhubaneswar DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police) when asked to give a byte on alleged threat by a group of Maoists to attack public places like Railway Station, Hospital and major educational institutes in Bhubaneswar.

However, the DCP was then busy explaining the success of police in nabbing few kidnappers after almost 15 days of their attempt to kidnap a nurse from a busy location of the city. But the panicking news of Maoist threat to attack public places didn’t have any importance for the DCP at the point.

One may believe or not, Journalists who have applied for passes for entry into State Secretariat for reporting various issues, events and developments relating to people and the state are being scanned like terrorists in the name of verification and journalists who have applied for passes since February last are still waiting for their entry passes to report news and events inside State Secretariat. The State I&PR department places growing Maoist activities in the state as the reason of such indefinite delay in issuing a pass to a journalist to enable him/ her reporting news of the State.

In fact, the I&PR department of the state that is meant to support media activities, track media reports and empower journalists to work as a bridge between government and people is now working as an instrument of the state government to restrict journalists from doing their job. However, all these are done in the name of security.

Hopefully, journalists’ federations and unions are well aware of this issues faced by journalists but have been ineffective in safe guarding the rights of the journalists working across the state.

Such attitude of the government, administration and Police in the state of Orissa is clearly a threat to the professional rights of a Journalist and also a threat to the fundamental right to speak. It seems, in the name of security, government of Orissa is restricting journalists from accomplishing their job of bringing truth to public and exposing all wrongs for the interest of public.

As per the international federation of Journalists, there can be no press freedom if journalists exist in conditions of Corruption, Poverty or fear. In Orissa, and most part of India as well, the first two conditions such as corruption and poverty do prevail. And, now the government is creating the third condition of fear by strategically targeting the journalists who alone can help eliminating the corruption and poverty by exposing the loop-holes in the governance system.

So, it’s high time for the Journalists Union and Federations, for the Press Council of India, the Civil Society bodies and the political institutions of the country to come forward to safeguard the Rights and Freedom of Press to protect the Fourth Estate of democracy and also the fundamental right to speak.

 

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