Free Speech in 2018: Murder, violence, threats, gags, and policy clampdowns – that’s how the year started.
GEETA SESHU on media freedom in 2018

 

PRESS FREEDOM AND FREE SPEECH IN 2018

 

Media freedom continued to deteriorate in the first quarter of 2018 in India.

The first quarter of 2018 has seen three killings and 13 attacks on journalists, defamation cases that came to trial, a sedition case against a journalist and a clear push by both state and central government and the judiciary, through regulatory policy as well as judicial orders, to curb free speech.  There were also around 50 instances of censorship, and more than 20 instances of suspension of Internet services, as well as  the take down of online content.

CategoryNo. of instances
Murders03
Attacks13
Arrests/Detention03
Threats05
Sedition01
Defamation07
Censorship50
Govt policy (State & Centre)08
Judicial orders02
Privacy related06
Contempt case02

 

Journalists continued to be vulnerable.

The Hoot’s 2017 report had documented the murder of three journalists which could be clearly linked to their journalism.  In the first four months of 2018 as well, three journalists were killed in connection with their reporting, judging by  what initial investigations show.

 

 

For 2017 we had documented 46 attacks on journalists and media workers. Between January and April 2018, there have been 13 already all across the country, three of them in West Bengal.

 

Killings

In two separate incidents, three journalists were killed when they were mowed down by vehicles. On March 26, two Dainik Bhaskar journalists, Navin Nishchal and Vijay Singh, were killed when their bike was hit by an SUV in Bhojpur, near Patna, Bihar. Police said the vehicle was driven by a villager leader Mohammad Harsu. He was arrested. Initial reports said that a heated argument between Harsu, husband of a former panchayat mukhia, and the reporters over a news report had preceded the accident. However, the investigation is not complete.

A day later, a television reporter Sandeep Sharma was mowed down by a truck in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. Sharma, who had done a sting operation on a sand mining mafia in Bhind, had told police that he had received threats to his life.  The driver, Ranvir Singh, was arrested.

 

The suspects

Village head and relatives2
Sand mining mafia1

 

A Hoot investigation of the state of media freedom from January 1 to April 30, 2018, reveals that a range of actors,  from politicians, businesspersons, members of Hindu right wing organisations, the police and paramilitary forces, government agencies like the film certification board, the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, different state governments, lawyers and even media organisations, have acted to undermine freedom of expression.

 

Attacks

There were 14 attacks on journalists in the first quarter of the year. In five of these instances, there were targeted attacks against journalists investigating or writing about an issue. In at least ten instances, the perpetrators were either members of Hindu right wing organisations or the police. An unidentified assailant hurled a petrol bomb at the residence of Shillong Times Editor, Patricia Mukhim. The latter said that she was targeted for a range of writings about issues that troubled society. Her most recent articles criticized rampant and illegal mining in Meghalaya.

Perpetrators of other targeted attacks included the timber mafia. Mob violence was sponsored by party workers of both the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, Hindu extremists and the police. In one instance, the Delhi police molested a woman journalist covering a student protest. They later apologized, stating that they mistook her for a student!.

 

  • Jan 1, 2018 , Mumbai, Maharashtra : Protesters snatch Republic TV reporter Shravan Sen’s camera
  • Jan 7, 2018, Ahmedabad, Gujarat: A Facebook post by Damayantee Dhar who reports for Th
  • Jan 1, 2018 , Mumbai, Maharashtra : Protesters snatch Republic TV reporter Shravan Sen’s camera
  • Jan 7, 2018, Ahmedabad, Gujarat: A Facebook post by Damayantee Dhar who reports for The Wire records an attack on herself and another reporter from the Ahmedabad Mirror on January 7 by a “mob of 15-20 dalit men” headed by Keval Rathod.
  • Jan 23, 2018, Athiabari, Meghalaya: Timber mafia attack journalist Biplab Dey
  • January 31, 2018, Meerut,Uttar Pradesh: Journalist assaulted by mob of Hindu Yuva Vahini activists
  • Feb 14, 2018, Kolkata, West Bengal: Senior journalist Navalkant Sinha assaulted by Hindu Samhati Workers in Kolkata
  • Feb 22, 2018, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh : Payment scuffle, hostel management attack student and Journalists of a news channel
  •  Wire records an attack on herself and another reporter from the Ahmedabad Mirror on January 7 by a “mob of 15-20 dalit men” headed by Keval Rathod
  • Jan 23, 2018, Athiabari, Meghalaya: Timber mafia attack journalist Biplab Dey
  • January 31, 2018, Meerut,Uttar Pradesh: Journalist assaulted by mob of Hindu Yuva Vahini activists
  • Feb 14, 2018, Kolkata, West Bengal: Senior journalist Navalkant Sinha assaulted by Hindu Samhati Workers in Kolkata
  • Feb 22, 2018, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh : Payment scuffle, hostel management attack student and Journalists of a news channel
  • March 10, 2018, Assam-Mizoram border:  Assam police thrashes Mizo journalists. Emmy Lawbei, journalist with a television channel, was mercilessly beaten up by the police though she showed her identity card to them.
  • March 24, 2018, New Delhi: Delhi Police Officer molests Female Journalist; Police said they mistook her to be a student.
  • March 25, 2018, Malappuram, Kerala:  journalist N C Shareef, was mercilessly beaten up locked up and assaulted by the Areekode police. Police claimed they didn’t know he was a reporter
  • April 1, 2018, Khowai District:  Tripura TV journalist Anup Debbarma, severely assaulted by a BJP worker
  • April 8, 2018, Kavinagar, Ghaziabad: TV journalist Anuj Chawdhary shot outside his home, by by sharpshooters allegedly working for Shekhar Chaudhary , a former local councillor charged with the murder of BJP leader Brijpal Teotia
  • April 9, 2018, Alipore, West Bengal : Photojournalist Diplab Mondal Covering Bengal Panchayat Poll Violence Alleges Assault by TMC Goons
  • April 17, 2018, Umpling, Meghalaya: Petrol bomb attack on residence of Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim
  • April 20, 2018, Siliguri, West Bengal: TMC workers assault journalists when they went to Chayanpara in Siliguri to cover a scuffle between workers from TMC and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

 

The Attackers

Delhi police01
Hindu right wing orgns.02
TMC workers02
Unidentified assailants02
Owners of private hostel01
Assam Police01
Kerala police01
BJP workers01
Dalit lawyer, activists01
Timber gang01
Total13

 

Threats and harassment

Journalists were at the receiving end of threats from those identified as members of Hindu right wing organisations in three out of five instances. In another, a television journalist received death threats from unidentified persons following the channel’s coverage of the Kasganj violence. In one instance, personnel of the CRPF accosted a tribal journalist in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.

In serious cases of online harassment, intimidation and death threats, journalists were trolled and their personal details shared on social media. A woman journalist found that her Twitter account was compromised by fake messages and morphed pictures were circulated. Journalists filed police complaints but no arrests have been made.

 

Threats and harassment

CRPF01
Unidentified persons02
Temple trust office-bearers01
RSS workers01
Hindu right wing01
BJP leader01
Lawyer01
BJP supporters01
Total09

(CRPF: Central Reserve Police Force)

 

Arrests and detentions

 

While journalists in the field were subjected to mob attacks, others were picked up by police when they went to cover protests, as in the case of two journalists from Kerala reporting on a ‘caste’ wall in a village. While restrictions on foreign media continued with the denial of  visas to Australian journalists who had earlier done a story related to Gautam Adani, two foreign journalists weredetained by Kerala police for covering a Valentines’s Day celebration in a college. Other instances of arrests and detentions were for social media posts that satirized or were critical of politicians and political leaders. In Chennai the Central Crime Branch (CCB) on April 27 arrested a person who allegedly posted derogatory statement on Facebook against Electricity Minister P. Thangamani.

Arrests and detention

Kerala police02
Assam police01
Goa police01
Central Crime Branch in Chennai01

 

As protests raged over the rape of minors and violence against marginalized communities, dalits, students, the climate for free speech reflected both a menacing intolerance for dissenting viewpoints and a crackdown on civil rights. Apart from the dangerous attacks on journalists, others were harassed and their personal details shared online, they were threatened and became victims of fake news as hate messages attributed to them went viral.

The judiciary, hitherto a reassuring protector of free speech, sent mixed signals as different courts ordered gags on media coverage, fined and penalized media houses for violating the law on disclosure of the identity of minor victims of sexual assault and took up petitions alleging contempt of court.

In February, in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said that in 2017, there were 15 attacks on journalists in which 26 people were arrested. Between 2015-17, there were 90 attacks on journalists and 108 people were arrested, the minister said, referring to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for the last three years.

The figures are at complete variance with The Hoot’s own research as the ‘THE INDIA FREEDOM REPORT: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017’ recorded a verified number of 46 attacks on journalists.The minister also said that the Home Ministry has no information on whether any organisation or organisations were responsible for the attacks on media persons.

But, as the above findings of The Hoot show, the perpetrators are only too well known.

 

Sedition

On April 30, journalist Kamal Shukla was charged with sedition by the Katwali police station in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district for sharing a cartoon on social media on the rape of a minor girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, allegedly lampooning the country’s judiciary and government on Facebook.

Shukla, editor of Bhumkaal Samachar and active in highlighting fake encounters in the area, is also head of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti which has campaigned for a law to protect journalists. He was booked for sedition on the basis of a complaint filed by a Rajasthan resident.

 

Defamation

Proceedings continued in five cases of defamation even as gags on the publication of the news reports were lifted in two cases – that of Jay Amit Shah against The Wire and that of Arindam Chaudhari against Caravan magazine. In the case of Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari against Manushi editor and commentator Madhu Kishwar, the case went to trial.

A defamation case was filed by Fatima Nafees, mother of Jawaharlal Nehru University student Najeeb Ahmed, who has been missing since October 2016, against certain media houses for labelling her son an “ISIS sympathizer.

In another case, Congress leader Jagdish Tytler threatened to file a criminal defamation case against the creators of a sting video that purportedly linked him to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Tytler, who said his images were morphed, submitted a memorandum to the Home Ministry stating that he has registered a police complaint.

 

Policy curbs and censorship

Amidst these attacks, the Union and state governments announced policies that would curb media freedom

The most active censoring agency was clearly the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), which announced several policy measures (and rolled back only one) to monitor the content of print, broadcast and online media.

In January, it announced that it has widened the ambit of district monitoring committees to cover the monitoring of content of private FM channels and Community Radio Stations (CRS) in addition to TV channels.

In April, the I&B Ministry announced fresh guidelines for penal action against accredited journalists who spread fake news but this sparked a furore and was withdrawn within 24 hours. However, it was followed up with the setting up of a committee comprising bureaucrats and members of the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Standards Authority to regulate online content.

Reports that the Ministry planned to radio-tag journalists who visited government offices were denied by the Ministry, but the news website which reported this stood by its report.

 

Censorship

Censorship of news, broadcast, online media and film continued unabated. There were more than nine instances of news being censored, including curbs on news-gathering itself by various state governments and the Centre. These included restrictions on the movement of journalists in government offices and the legislative assemblies, threats of penal action for news that allegedly contained ‘harsh words’ and even ostensible guidelines from the National Investigation Authority on the duties of a journalist!

 

Censorship

Censorship – Film

26

Censorship – News

16

Censorship – Music

06

Censorship- Online media

03

Censorship –Broadcast

02

Censorship-Art

01

 

More than 20 films ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) while news was censored nine times. Both feature films and documentaries continued to languish between the CBFC, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) and the courts.

Even court orders certifying films for commercial release and a name change did not ensure safe passage, as in the case of Padmavat, where members of the Rajput Karni Sena managed to get the governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to ban the film in these states. The producer of the film Unfreedom chose to exhibit his film on an online video streaming platform to circumvent the censorship when his film was denied a certificate by the CBFC.

 

Who censored films

CBFC22
Rajput KarniSena02
MIB01
Telangana government01
Lawyers01
MIFF01
BJP Minister01
SGPC01
Total29

 

Who censored news

MIB01
Telangana government01
Delhi High Court01
District Magistrate, UP01
NIA01
Goa police01
Former judge01
MLA and Dalit activist/ journalists (Chennai)01
Total09

 

Who censored broadcasts

MIB01
Total01

 

Who censored online media

Media House01
*Congress-I01
*Reliance Industries01
Total03

(*No official confirmation)

 

Who censored music

Punjab government01
Chennai police01
Hindu Right wing religious groups01
Muslim social organization01
Lawyers01
Total05

 

Singer Sona Mohapatra filed a written application at Santacruz police station late on April 30, stating that she received a threat allegedly from Madariya Sufi Foundation, asking her to remove a new music video from all communication mediums for being “vulgar, hurting and insulting Islamic religious sentiments.”

Other censorship included the take down of content allegedly satirizing the speech of the son of Reliance Industries Chairperson Mukesh Ambani from online news sites, the takedown of videos of Congress-I President Rahul Gandhi and the termination of the services of a journalist for tweeting about fake news spread by the media house.

However, an order by the NBSA to Zee Television to apologise for, and take down, a video of a programme calling scientist and poet Gauhar Raza anti-national has not been complied with, marking yet another setback to media freedom.

 

Internet shutdowns

The Internet continued to be at the mercy of local district administrations and state governments, as internet services were suspended for varying periods due to protests or the outbreak of violence in 25 instances, seven of which were in Jammu and Kashmir.

The most absurd of the shutdowns was in Srinagar when the authorities suspended internet services over rumours that Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi would address a gathering at the Jama Masjid.

Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, with four instances each, recorded internet shutdowns as district administrations suspended internet services during the nationwide bandh called by dalit organisations against the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. In West Bengal, internet services were suspended following violence during the Ram Navami celebrations.

 

Internet related censorship

Internet shutdowns

22

Internet takedowns

02

Internet related arrests

05

Total

29

 

Internet shutdowns continued to be imposed through Section 144 as a law and order measure.

 

Internet Shutdowns

Sr NoDateStateAgenciesReason given by authorities

1

Dec 31, 2017-Jan 2, 2018

RajasthanKota district administrationHindu Mahasabha call to perform puja on January 1 at a cenotaph situated onTiger Hill over Jait Sagar Lake, Bundi city

2

Jan 3, 2018

Aurangabad, MaharashtraMaharashtra state Home departmentViolence after Bhima-Koregaon

3

Jan 4, 2018

Kolhapur,Maharashtra,Kolhapur acting district collector Nandakumar KatkarViolence after Bhima-Koregaon

4

Jan 8,2018

Badgam,Jammu and KashmirJ & K governmentSecurity reasons after encounter between government forces and militants in Chadoora area of district Badgam

5

Jan 9-11, 2018Anantnag, Jammu and KashmirJ & K governmentShutdown and protests in Anantnag and Kulgam over militant and civilian killings

6

January 24,2018

Shopian, Jammu and KashmirJ & K governmentProtests following killing of two militants and a teenage boy in Chaigund village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district.

7

Jan 25-26Entire Kashmir valleyJ & K governmentPre-Republic Day security measures. Normal practice to suspend internet services on R-Day and August 15, but this is the first time these services were withdrawn a day earlier.

8

January 28,2018

Kasganj, Uttar PradeshR P Singh, Kasganj District MagistrateCiting ‘communally charged atmosphere’

9

February 10,2018

Parts of RajasthanDistrict officialsInternet services were suspended to check “rumour-mongering”

10

February 10, 2018

Bhopal, Madhya PradeshDistrict officialsInternet services were suspended to check “rumour-mongering”

11

Feb 10-11, 2018Firozabad, Uttar PradeshDistrict officialsBharat bandh call by caste-based groups reservation in education and jobs, following nationawide protest by dalit groups  against the alleged dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court

12

February 18,2018Tonk, RajasthanAdditional district magistrate, Lokesh Kumar GautamClash between two communities

13

March 1,2018Bandipur, Uttar Pradesh 

14

March 20,2018Bhagalpur/ Banka, BiharDistrict administrationGroup clashes in neighbouring Nathnagar, resulted in discontinuance of internet services in Banka

15

20-Mar, 2018

Sagar, Madhya PradeshDistrict Collector Alok Kumar Singh, BhagalpurFollowing communal tension after posting of offensive content online.

16

March 29th, 2018Bundi, RajasthanDistrict CollectorInternet services were shutdown in Bundi city amid fears of communal tension, on the 30th of March after 8 pm ahead of Hanuman Jayanti celebrations.

17

March 31st, 2018Kolkata, West BengalKolkata PoliceClashes after Ram Navmi celebrations

18

April 2, 2018

Alwar, Jaipur, Bharatpur and Barmer, RajasthanRajasthan PoliceViolence and death of one person in firing in Rajasthan’s Alwar city due to the ongoing Bharat Bandh.

18

April 2, 2018

Chandigarh, PunjabPunjab State GovernmentMobile Internet services suspended to control rumour-mongering ahead of the protests for a Bharat Bandh

19

April 3,2018

Meerut, Uttar PradeshUttar Pradesh district administrationInternet service suspended as a precautionary measure, following the violent protests against Supreme Court’s ruling on SC/ST Act.

20

April 3,2018

Some districts of RajasthanRajasthan PoliceViolent protests against Supreme Court’s ruling on SC/ST Act.

21

April 10,2018

Firozabad, Uttar PradeshDistrict administrationViolence after Bharat Bandh call

22

April 11,2018

Kulgam, Jammu and KashmirJ & K governmentClosure of all schools and colleges in Kulgam and suspension of Internet services in south Kashmir areas.

23

April 15,2018

Phagwara, PunjabPunjab governmentAll mobile internet services, SMS services and dongle services in territorial jurisdiction of Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and SBS Nagar districts suspended.

24

April 20,2018

Srinagar, J&KJ & K governmentApprehension of violence following rumour of Pak cricketer Shahid Afridi’s address at Jama Masjid

25

April 20,2018

Rajouri, J&KJ & K governmentApprehension of violence after death of youth in suspicious circumstances

 

Apart from fears of regulation of online content, a Citizen Lab-Indian Express study revealed that websites of a range of groups, including human rights groups, NGOs, feminist groups and LGBT groups had been blocked with Netsweeper software.

The firm filtered content for ISPs in ten countries and at least 12 ISPs in India utilized its services. ‘A testing period between August 2017 and April 2018 saw “the highest number of blocked unique URLS” – 1,158 out of 2,464 – in India,’ the report said.

 

Privacy, Aadhar, Surveillance

In a blatant move to curb any further investigations into the misuse of Aadhar, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) filed an FIR against the reporter and editor of The Tribune newspaper for their reports on the Aadhaar data leak reports. In the midst of concerns over Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s breach of data, the Indian Government issued two notices to the two companies and given them time till May 10 to furnish a reply.

However, the government’s own surveillance of citizens is still a matter of concern. In March, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to get all Direct To Home (DTH) operators to install a chip in new set-top boxes, which can give data about channels watched by the viewers and their duration.

 

Judicial orders

While the Bombay High Court lifted the gag on media coverage of the Sohrabuddin killing trial, the Delhi Hig h Court imposed a ban on media coverage of the bribery case of former district judge I. M. Quddussi. The Delhi High Court also took up suo moto notice of the disclosure of the identity of child victims of sexual assault by media houses, imposed a Rs 1 lakh penalty on 13 prominent media houses, and issued notices to other websites.

In the wake of the Loya judgement, though not expressly stated as such, the Supreme Court allowed a writ seeking contempt of court proceedings against comments or opinions expressed in the media allegedly critical of its judgements.

 

In favour of media freedom 

Despite the ominous number and range of attacks on media freedom, the ongoing struggle to resist these curbs does yield results. In April, an injunction on the publication of a book on yoga guru and businessperson Baba Ramdev by Priyanka Pathak-Narain and published by Juggernaut Books was lifted by a district court in Delhi.

In January, the Bombay High Court lifted a gag order on media coverage of the Sohrabbudin trial following a petition filed by nine journalists and the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists.

 

Raw data can be  found here:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1f4eCUYZB8P2Y3b40jtYbD_SbCuW1sG0z69ZO4dmaCQI/edit?usp=sharing

 

Report Author: Geeta Seshu

Research: Geeta Seshu with:

Anushka Jain,

Mignon Mascarenhas,

Srishti Patnaik,

Viraj Gaur and

Yash Agarwal

of the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

http://thehoot.org/research/special-reports/journalists-remain-in-the-cross-hairs-10616

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