The resignation, in March 2001, of the Minister of Defence and the president of the party in power, following a momentous investigation by the online publication tehelka.com, is a fine example of how the Indian press fulfils its role in the balance of power in the country. With some forty thousand publications, a hundred private television channels on cable, and hundreds of FM radio stations, India is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of pluralist press and is a promising market. But several problems remain. In Kashmir, and in the north-eastern states, where separatist or Marxist guerrillas are rife, journalists are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rebels threaten to retaliate against them if they do not publish their press releases. Security forces and local authorities accuse them of supporting the rebels and do not hesitate to arrest journalists or search press offices. Pradip Phanjoubam, a publisher in Manipur State (north-east), says that, "in an insurrectional situation such as ours, the press is always the institution that has to walk the straightest line."
Relations between local government and the media can also be contentious. The return to power of the populist Jayaram Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu State (south of the country) has led to heightened tensions. A journalist was arrested, more than a hundred and fifty were taken in for questioning, and local authorities have accused the press of "biased" coverage.
The strength of the Indian press lies in its capacity to mobilise journalists. In December, the government withdrew part of its new antiterrorist law. This would have required journalists to provide authorities with any information they have on "terrorist activity", with prison sentences for those who refuse. In Tamil Nadu State, journalists’ demonstrations helped lead to the release of a reporter who had been imprisoned by local authorities. Finally, in January 2001, the press of Manipur State created a protection committee. This committee called for boycott of the coverage of activities of local authorities until police officers who had attacked reporters were tried.
The country’s television boom, and especially that of its cable operators, continued in 2001. With seventy million homes equipped with televisions and more than thirty million cable subscribers, India is a promising market. Indians have access to more than eighty-five television channels offered by more than forty thousand cable operators.
One journalist killed
One journalist was killed in 2001. But, as of 1 January 2002, it is impossible to say whether this murder was related to the victim’s activities as a reporter.
On 30 July 2001, Mool Chand Yadav, a journalist with the daily Punjab Kesari, was shot by two unknown people in a street of Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh State, north of the country). According to his colleagues, Mool Chand Yadav, fifty-three years old, was murdered because of his investigations into organised crime. Yadav was also in charge of a local journalists’ association.
Two journalists jailed
On 20 August 2001, a police officer arrested Rajesh Bhattarai, editor of the Nepalese-language daily Aajo Bholi, at the newspaper’s offices in Gangtok (Sikkim State, north-east of the country). Bhattarai was arrested according to article 153 (a) of the penal code, which allows for a prison sentence of up to three years for anyone, "provoking tensions among communities by their writings or speeches". The newspaper had been in conflict with local authorities for more than a year over the publication of an article claiming that the Prime Minister of Sikkim had "insulted" a movement representing the Nepalese minority. One week later, Rajesh Bhattarai was released on bail for medical reasons, but the charges against him were not dropped.
On 20 November, Sivasubramanian, a journalist with the Tamil language magazine Nakkeeran, was kidnapped in Salem, a town located in Tamil Nadu State (in southern India). After the chief editor of Nakkeeran, R. Gopal, filed a request of habeas corpus to obtain the release of his reporter, police from Karnataka State announced that the journalist had been arrested for "suspicious trips" and possession of "electronic gadgets" in this south-western state of Karnataka. He was first detained in compliance with articles 212 and 34 of the Indian penal code, two charges that allow defendants to be released on bail. Following additional interventions by the editor of Nakkeeran, Sivasubramanian was charged in accordance with the Arms Act and can no longer be released on bail. He is being held by the Special Task Force of Karnataka State, and no one has been authorised to see him since his arrest. Sivasubramanian has been accused of "supporting" the bandit Veerappan and of "possessing illegal arms and explosives". The Special Task Force allegedly seized, on 22 November, arms, munitions, explosives and electronic material following confessions made by the journalist. According to R. Gopal, Sivasubramanian was probably tortured into providing information on which the police based its new charges. Sivasubramaniam is known for having been the first journalist to interview the notorious Indian bandit Veerappan, who has managed to evade the police for 15 years. He also played a major role in the negotiations for the release of hostages held captive by the bandit, among them the actor Rajkumar. However, according to R. Gopal, his arrest may be tied to a series of articles about acts of violence, especially against women, committed by the Special Task Force in the pursuit of Veerappan.
One hundred and sixty journalists arrested
On 24 June 2001, Karin Steinberger, a German journalist with the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung published in Munich, and Steve McCurry, an American photographer, were arrested in Digboi, in the easternmost part of Assam State (north-east of India). Both reporters were on assignment for the German magazine Geo. They were accused of meeting separatist leaders of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA, a banned movement) in camps in Bhutan. They were released two days later after questioning. Police ordered them to leave the State of Assam.
On 27 June, Suresh, a reporter with the private television channel Sun TV, was arrested in Tamil Nadu State (south of the country) while covering a demonstration of the former Prime Minister of this state. The politician, together with a group of partisans and a dozen reporters, entered a public grain warehouse without authorisation to verify grain quality. Suresh was accused of "trespassing on public property". According to his colleagues, he was the only person arrested because the state government was in conflict with Sun TV, which is owned by someone close to the opposition. The next day, some fifty journalists skirmished with police who prevented them from going to the government seat in Chennai (formerly Madras) to deliver a petition calling for Suresh’s release. On 29 June, more than two hundred journalists marched in the streets of Chennai, their mouths gagged to protest the arrest of their colleague. As they approached an official building, police surrounded them and forced them into trucks. One hundred and fifty-seven journalists were held for more than six hours. They were accused of "disturbing public order". The same day, police released Suresh on bail.
Forty-one journalists attacked
On 10 January 2001, police officers attacked correspondents with the magazines Imphal Free Press and Poknapham in Jiribam (Manipur State), who had written articles on security problems in this remote region in the northeast of the country.
On 19 January, Surinder Oberoi, a journalist with Agence France-Presse and RSF correspondent in the Jammu and Kashmir province (northwest of the country), was beaten and threatened with death by a Kashmir police officer in a street of Srinagar. The journalist went to a street near his office where a bomb had exploded in order to help injured people and cover the event. A few minutes later, policemen arrived and asked the people to leave, fearing a second blast. G. M. Dar, an officer with the police special forces (Task force), who was present on the scene, ordered journalists to leave. He attacked Surinder Oberoi: after insulting him and pointing his AK 47 rifle at him, he hit him several times. Following the intervention of other journalists, the police officer stopped. A few minutes later, Surinder Oberoi complained to a senior officer about this attack. This complaint angered police officer Dar who, with other policemen, beat the journalist again with their rifles. According to the reporter, the officer shouted at him, "This is the last normal day of your life." Surinder Oberoi complained to the Kashmir police chief who promised an inquiry and sanctions against the authors of the attack. One year after the attack, no sanctions had been taken against officer Dar.
On 25 April, journalist Vaibhav Purandare, a correspondent with the daily Asian Age, was violently pulled from his car and beaten by some forty members of the Shiv Sena Party (Army of Shiva) on Elphinstone Bridge in the centre of Bombay (west of the country), while he was covering a religious ceremony. He showed the Shiv sainiks his identification, but they replied that only reporters from Saama, the Shiv Sena newspaper, were allowed to cover the event. Vaibhav Purandare was taken to hospital in the city of Parel where he was treated for bruises on his body and face.
On 10 May, seventeen journalists, cameramen and photographers were beaten and threatened with death by members of the 194th battalion of Border Security Forces (BSF) in Magam (30 kilometres north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir). The victims were: Kumaramanglam and Sanam Anjum, cameramen with the channel Enadu TV, Syed Muzaffar, photographer with the daily Srinagar Times, Sheikh Mushtaq, journalist with the Reuters press agency, Faya Kabuli, photographer with Reuters, Fayaz Ahmed, photographer with Daily Aftab, Nassir Ahmed, cameraman with the channel Zee TV, Bilal Bhat, photographer with Asian News International, Ajaz Rahi, photographer with the Associated Press, Mehraj-u-din, cameraman with Associated Press Television, Shujat Bhukhar, journalist with the daily The Hindu, Tauseef Mustafa, photographer with Agence France-Presse, and Missar Ahmed, photographer with the daily The Hindu. BSF members, led by officer M. Mallik, assaulted the media professionals who had come from Srinagar. The officer asked his men to drive the journalists out of the town and beat them with their rifle butts. The Enadu TV cameraman was taken to hospital with a serious head injury. At least six cameras and video cameras were broken during the attack. The BSF accused the journalists of "exacerbating tension" in the city. The previous night, a bomb exploded killing eight people. Shooting followed between Kashmiri separatist groups and security forces and led to the death of a BSF officer. The BSF officers later patrolled the streets, shooting and destroying shops. Two days later, the director of the BSF announced that an investigation was being opened concerning this incident. As of 1 January 2002, no sanctions had been taken against those responsible for the attacks.
On 15 July, Hindi demonstrators attacked journalists covering the Indo-Pakistani summit in Agra (near Taj Mahal, north of the country). Rana Jawad, reporter with the newspaper Uttura Choudhury, was wounded when his press vehicle was attacked. A group of correspondents from Agence France-Presse was also attacked by young Hindus who shouted, "Death to Pakistan, death to Musharraf."
On 11 August, Border Security Force (BSF) members brutally attacked four employees, including the publisher, of the Urdu weekly Chattan published in Srinagar. A few minutes after a grenade was thrown at a BSF position in Srinagar centre, soldiers entered the Chattan office looking for the perpetrators of the terrorist attack. BSF men beat three newspaper employees with their rifle butts and arrested one of them, accusing him of having thrown the grenade. Tahir Mohiudin, publisher of this weekly that is very critical of Indian presence in Kashmir, was also beaten and insulted by soldiers. The employee arrested was released the following day, but the two others remained at hospital for almost a week. BSF officers apologised to the Chattan editor but no sanctions were taken against the soldiers. "Raids in newspaper offices are quite frequent, especially during crackdowns, but this is the first time we suffered such a violent attack," Tahir Mohiudin told RSF.
On 13 August, thirteen journalists were roughed up by police during a demonstration of the Dravada Munnetra Kazhagam alliance (DMK, opposition party) in Chennai (formerly Madras, Tamil Nadu State). Police officers charged the journalists, including a team from the television channel Zee TV, who were taking pictures of and filming a Jeep on fire near a police building. One of them suffered head wounds, the others suffered contusions from being beaten with sticks.
Pressure and obstruction
In early 2001, the separatist group Revolutionary People’s Front launched a campaign in Manipur State against the "Hindi cultural invasion". They threatened to retaliate against the owners of two local cable television networks, which broadcast films in Hindi. Out of fear of being attacked, both companies ceased broadcasting films and other programmes in Hindi. But under pressure from security forces and authorities, they had to reinstate their Hindi programming. "If Hindi programmes are stopped, the two operators may be closed down," threatened one official. The next day, activists of the Revolutionary People’s Front burst into the offices of these companies and threatened their managers with death.
On 23 January, Bal Thackeray, leader of the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena, filed charges for "slander" against the news magazine Indian Weekly. He asked for more than twenty-seven million euros in damages. This monthly revealed the links between Thackeray and a member of the mafia, Bharat Shah, arrested earlier that month.
On 1 February, grenades were thrown at the headquarters of the governmental television station in Kashmir. Indian authorities claimed that this attack, which caused no damages, was the work of Kashmiri separatists.
On 13 February, the Indian government announced its decision to ban the French television channel Fashion TV, broadcast on cable. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of Information, justified this decision because of the "vulgarity" of its programs. On 20 February, the Indian government reversed their decision after coming to a compromise with executives of Fashion TV who promised to offer programming "more in touch with Indian sensibilities". In early March, the Minister of Information ordered public television channels to remove two commercials considered "obscene". She said that these television channels were promoting "nudity" and "anti-Indian" values. It seems that the Minister has transformed the country’s Central Monitoring Service (created in 1980s to oversee "anti-Indian propaganda") into an administration responsible for controlling television content considered too sexually explicit. She is not afraid of being "compared to an Indian Mullah Omar" and states that she is defending the "dignity of Indian women".
On 19 March, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh (centre of the country) sentenced Rajendra Purohit and Vinay Panshikar, editors of the English-language daily The Hitvada, and two other journalists of the same newspaper, to six months in prison for "contempt of court". The newspaper published on 4 July 2000 a petition entitled, "The court’s verdict in the Niyogi murder case is nonsense," in which the High Court of Madhya Pradesh was strongly criticised for acquitting suspects in a murder case. The journalists appealed this decision before the Supreme Court. They were not arrested.
On 20 April, police seized copies of the American magazine Time in newsagents in the main cities of the State of Kashmir. Several hours earlier, students had demonstrated against this weekly that published, in its edition of 16 April, a cartoon showing the prophet Mahomet. The next day, more than five thousand Muslim students demonstrated in the streets of Srinagar accusing Time of "blasphemy". Police broke up the crowd after cars had been burned. The editor of the Asian edition of Time apologised for offending Muslim "feelings".
On 26 April, the High Court of New Delhi summoned the managing editor and four journalists of the satirical magazine Wah India for "contempt of court", following a complaint filed by an association of magistrates. At the same time, police searched the offices of Wah India and seized several hundred copies of the magazine. The April issue of Wah India was also removed from sale at newsstands in the city. The magazine had published a list of judges of the High Court of New Delhi rated according to their level of integrity. On 2 May, Madhu Trehan, managing editor of Wah India, presented his apologies to the judges after the first hearing. On 28 May, the judges handed down a verdict: they accepted the apologies of the magazine and dropped the charges. During the trial, managing editors of six of the country’s most important publications had contested the decision of the High Court to limit the coverage of the Wah India journalists’ trial. On 3 May, judges decided to remove this ban.
On 6 May, police in New Delhi arrested six armed men suspected of plotting to assassinate Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Behl, respectively editor-in-chief and investigative reporter for the online news site tehelka.com. Police claimed that Pakistani secret service agents had recruited the suspects to assassinate the two journalists who had revealed a bribery affair involving Indian ministers and generals. According to police, Pakistan was attempting to discredit the Indian government. The revelations made by tehelka.com led to the resignation in March of George Fernandes, Minister of Defence, and of Bangaru Laxman, president of the Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP, the party in power). But some media, including tehelka.com, expressed their doubts on the truth of this conspiracy. An Indian journalist questioned by RSF said that it could be a "manipulation" to cover up the scandal and especially to allow police to reinforce their surveillance of those in charge of the online newspaper. Several days later, police announced that Tarun Tejpal would benefit from "reinforced protection Z", reserved for the most important personalities. At the same time, the journalist said that he had not received any threats. Pakistan, for its part, denies any involvement in this conspiracy. In August, the Indian government threatened to file charges against the director of tehelka.com after a daily newspaper revealed that reporters working for the site had used prostitutes to entrap politicians and military officers. Members of Parliament belonging to the party in power, who were implicated in this scandal, called for the immediate arrest of the journalists. Tarun Tejpal replied that, "an extraordinary investigation calls for extraordinary means."
In July, the Parliament definitively adopted a law on freedom of information, which provides limited access to State information. Article 8 forbids access to information which could "affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, economic interests, international relations, and internal relations" of India.
On 4 August, twelve police officers from the State of Jammu and Kashmir went to the offices of the magazine Kalchakra, in New Delhi, to arrest its managing editor, Vineet Narain. The journalist was out of the city and avoided arrest. He decided to go underground. An arrest warrant was issued against him in December 2000, for "contempt of court" by judicial authorities of the province. Vineet Narain had published in 2000 a series of articles implicating high officials of Jammu and Kashmir in an influence-peddling scandal. He also wrote about the illegal funding of Kashmir separatist groups. Narain refused to be judged in this Himalayan province where he feared for his life. Since his articles were published, Vineet Narain received many threats. In January 2001, he was attacked and threatened with death during a conference on corruption, by individuals close to the government of Jammu and Kashmir. On 9 August, the court of Jammu and Kashmir again summoned Vineet Narain. But the court suspended the trial sine die on the very day of the hearing because of a wave of violence in the province. Vineet Narain is known for having revealed a scandal implicating Indian ministers in 1996.
During the month of September, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF, a group fighting for independence of the State of Manipur, in north-eastern India) ordered the press to publish an article on the kidnapping of a student leader, while the People’s Liberation Army (PLA, a rival independence armed group) threatened editors with "terrible consequences" if this affair was made public. An unlimited strike was called by the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) to protest against separatists’ attempts to "control the press" in the State of Manipur.
On 19 November, the government presented Parliament with the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). This "antiterrorist" law calls for prison sentences, in articles 3(8) and 14, to anyone, including journalists, who does not pass on to the authorities information they have concerning "terrorist activities". The law allows for temporary detention of thirty days and sentences of up to five years in jail for any violations. These two articles allow courts to sentence journalists to three years in jail if they do not reveal their sources concerning "terrorist activity" and especially the names of "terrorists" or sympathisers that they interview or meet. The law also allows the government to monitor all types of communication, such as e-mails and telephone conversations, without any administrative oversight. Many Indian journalists and human rights organisations have mobilised against this law. They are especially afraid that this law will lead to greater self-censorship of information about separatist movements considered by New Delhi to be terrorists. But on 6 December, the Indian government announced the removal from POTO of the article stating that journalists could face prison sentences for refusing to reveal information on terrorist activities.
On 17 December, the Hindu extremist organisation Bajrang Dal demanded that cable operators stop broadcasting the Pakistani channel PTV, accused of "anti-Indian propaganda". Launched from Bombay, this call followed the attack of the Indian Parliament by terrorists.