New Delhi : On the occasion of National Press Day, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) appeals to the journalist community to unite to defend the freedom of press, media rights and freedom of speech and expression enshrined in our Constitution. The list of targeted killings of journalists, violence, threats, harassment, intimidation in the country is menacingly growing. Worse, arbitrary detention, false cases against journalists under draconian laws such as sedition, UAPA and even NSA, are tools being used by authorities to stifle independent and critical reporting.
One of the major concerns to IJU and the global fraternity of journalists is the systematic gagging of an independent media in Jammu and Kashmir, wherein journalists are working under a nagging sense of fear inculcated by a media policy, which gives authorities, particularly in the Valley, to detain them at will and resort to detentions under false pretext of ‘fake news’ and threat to ‘national security’. Number of newspapers, critical of the administration, are being starved of advertisements and face closure, among other challenges.
This apart, the IJU is gravely concerned over misuse of investigating agencies, such as the Enforcement Directorate, to browbeat independent media and force it to toe line. Cases of raids on media group houses such as Dainik Bhaskar or online website NewsClick, are clear indication that critical media will need to pay a heavy price to keep the citizens informed and protect the right to free speech and expression. The downgrading of India in the World press freedom index, is another indicator.
In a statement, the IJU President and former member of Press Council of India, Geetartha Pathak and IJU Secretary General and Vice President of International Federation of Journalists Sabina Inderjit said it is a matter of serious concern that the authorities deliberately are trying to silence dissenting voices right from criticism of the government for inept handling of the pandemic, demonetisation that impacted the economy badly, to enactment of controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. Booking citizens and social activists including journalists for their mere comment on social media under draconian laws including UAPA and sedition laws are new normal under the present regime which undermines India’s democracy.
The IJU therefore, appeals to the government, both at the Centre and States, to uphold freedom of press, a basic tenet of democracy; it urges upon the Press Council of India to play its meaningful role to preserve press freedom and of maintaining and improving the standards of good journalism; it reiterates its long-pending demand for a safety law to protect journalists; extend economic package to ailing media industry, particularly small and medium newspapers and local media groups, hit by the pandemic. Its affiliates and journalist community per se must Stand Up For Journalism and join hands in solidarity to overcome the grave challenges.