The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual Global Impunity index, ranking India number 14th on this year’s list of states with the worst record of prosecuting the killers of journalists. The CPJ ranks states according to their political will to address impunity, which is gauged through their participation in UNESCO’s impunity accountability mechanism. The UNESCO mechanism requires states to report the status of individual investigations into the killing of journalists.
India however refused to take part in UNESCO’s impunity accountability mechanism. According to reports, most journalists that have been targets in India were targeted for reporting on corruption, crime and politics outside of the main urban areas of India. India has been on the CPJ list 11 times, with a total of eighteen recorded murders of journalists with impunity from the year 2008 to 2018. Since the year 1992, 48 journalists have been killed in India, and 34 targeted for murder; of which 32 according to some reports were murdered with complete impunity. In 2017 India was ranked number 12 on the Global Impunity Index with 13 journalists killed with complete impunity from 2007 to 2017.
In 23 years, the murder of journalist Jyotirmoy Dey remains the only one which was duly prosecuted, with the murderers sentenced.
The CPJ pointed out that conditions for journalists have in fact worsened in India this year. In 2018, three journalists were reportedly murdered for reporting and basically doing their job. These included Navin Nischal of Dainik Bhaskar, Sandeep Sharma of News World, and Shujaat Bukhari of Rising Kashmir.
On March 25 in the city of Arrah, reporters Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh were run over by an SUV. According to sources the SUV was driven by the village head Mohammad Harshu who took issue with the journalists reporting on child marriage in the area. Journalist Sandeep Sharma was killed on March 26 when a truck ran his motorcycle over. According to reports, Sharma had been receiving threats for working on reporting illegal sand mining and police corruption. The News World’s bureau chief, Vikas Purohit confirmed Sharma had also been beaten up earlier as he was working on this assignment. Another very senior journalist and editor, Shujaat Bukhari working on the Kashmir issue was shot and killed on June 14. Of his security two police officers assigned to protect him were also shot and killed.
There has also been an increase in internet shutdowns across India, increasing from 31 in 2016 to 77 in 2017. There have been reports of not only heavy censorship but also of journalists being restricted access to official events, owing to fear of word getting out to the public.
The Hoot’s “India Freedom Report: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017” reported in 2017 that 11 journalists were murdered, 46 were attacked and 27 cases of police action were filed alone this year. There have also been cases in which journalists have been hit with legal fees and excessive civil defamation suits, as in the case of the Reliance Group suing Indian news channel NDTV for US$1.35 billion because of its report on the lack of transparency in the Rafale fighter jet deal.
These trends are indicative of a larger issue with regards to fast-fading freedom of press and mounting pressure on the journalist community in India. When journalists and reporters are not being murdered, they are being attacked and threatened—all to keep them from doing their job, a large part of which is telling the truth and creating an informed society with essential checks and balances. An independent press is an essential pillar of democracy. It is important to consider erosion of press freedom rights would ultimately harm the Indian public the most.