Press freedom in India is a fragile creature even in the best of times. Much of it is compromised by media owners themselves for all kinds of gains. Some of India’s richest control huge chunks of the media, none more so than the obscenely rich man who lives in a grotesquely obscene house and isn’t really concerned about press freedom. Now we even have a prime minister who takes potshots at the media, but won’t sit down for an interview that doesn’t demand a Faustian bargain
from the journalist.
Even legally, the press has no special guarantees, either for the protection of sources—an imperative—or freedom of expression. It is subject to the same “reasonable restrictions”, which the lowers courts of this country have a stellar history of unreasonably interpreting.
These systemic concerns aside, the reporter’s job is one of the most dangerous in the world right now. The Islamic State executed two journalists in September alone, and 70 have been killed covering the Syria conflict so far. India isn’t much better. A Reporters Without Borders study this year ranked India 140 on press freedom, slightly better than Sudan and China. An analysis of 55 journalist deaths by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit devoted to press freedom, found that 32 “work-related” deaths of journalists since 1992; in another 23 cases the motive could not be determined. Most of the victims covered beats like politics, crime and human rights.
Reporting from a conflict zone is perilous, and after some instances of security forces posing as journalists, the suspicion is extreme. But reporters soldier on, believing that their work from far and wide is necessary, that it will inform the people.
Our cover story, “Pipe dreams of homeland”, by Suresh P Thomas and photographer Deepu Philip, about the Naga insurgency, opium addiction and the government’s Machiavellian role in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district, was reported under extreme duress. The two of them, along with another photographer who had accompanied them, were abducted by militants of the NSCN(K), one of the two major Naga insurgent groups. They were kept hostage and beaten through the day, before being released. In reporting from Changlang and tracking the opium trade, they were taking reasonable risks; it is after all a conflict zone. They followed the necessary protocols, informed officials about their presence, spoke to a number of people including politicians, and openly declared that they were there as journalists. Everyone told them it was safe to go into the villages, and they were even assured of safety from the militants’ emissary. Yet it turned out differently. That’s what reporters put on the line every time they venture into dark, violent places to do their jobs.
Saurav Kumar, Editor