“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)
Sri Lankan daily, The Sunday Leader, published a posthumous editorial by noted journalist Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge after his death on January 8, 2009. In that editorial, the slain journalist blamed the government for assassinating media persons as its primary tool for controlling the media. Wickrematunge wrote: “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.” (‘And Then They Came For Me’, The Sunday Leader, January 11, 2009)
The scenario remained the same even a decade after the assassination of Wickrematunge as around 94 journalists were killed across the globe in 2018! India is no exception. The South Asian nation secured the fifth place (after Afghanistan, Mexico, Yemen and Syria) in the list of countries where journalists were killed by miscreants. An international organisation of media persons has prepared the list according to which the reason behind killing of journalists in India, neighbouring Pakistan and the Philippines is not war or organised crime, but the intolerance of the state towards voices of criticism! The assassinations of Gauri Lankesh and Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 shocked the Indian society. Their deaths have created a vacuum that might be difficult to fill for a long time. A number of journalists also lost their lives, were imprisoned or sacked while performing their duties in these countries in recent times. It seems that the rulers (especially in South Asia) forget that the ‘freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of democracy’! Freedom of speech does more than protect democracy, as it also promotes a democratic culture.
Of course, a section of people has staged protests and condemned the rulers for launching attacks on the freedom of press. However, the rulers have made clear that they will target journalists whenever they feel that the freedom of speech hurts the image of the government or the ruling party. Narendra Modi – who is all set to complete his five-year term as the Prime Minister of India – is yet to hold a press conference. Perhaps, he didn’t have the time to meet the press in the last five years! During Modi’s tenure as the PM, journalists not only face bullying and criminal cases, but India falls three spots on the World Press Freedom Index (below Afghanistan and Myanmar) due to growing censorship.
Speaking at an event in the second week of January, the Indian PM said: “The ordinary camera-person and reporter are as sensitive and passionate about the issues of our nation and society like a political worker, like us. And they also work very, very hard.” He even advised his party members to develop friendly relations with ‘foot shoulders’ of the media!
To collect news is a tough job, indeed. However, a political party or its leader can’t categorise the journalists! Each and every journalist has the right to get answers. If any journalist wants to know official information or a party’s position on any particular issue, a political leader should give him/her the right information. In a democratic system, it is expected that leaders and ministers – despite knowing the fact that they will be criticised – will reply to journalists.
Before being assassinated by secret assailants in October 2018, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote: “…all the tyrants were fed from the same poisonous well – but rather the world’s indifference”. (‘Avoid prison as much as you can… for freedom, imprisonment, and depression’, Jamal Khashoggi, June 10, 2018) The indifference of the world, and not the ruler’s authoritarian character, disheartened Khashoggi! It seems that we are forced to realise the level of his frustration, if we think about freedom of press…
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