The Indian media is dynamic and protective of its freedoms and plays a crucial role in the country’s democratic system. However, in states shaken by separatist or Maoist rebellions, journalists are caught in the crossfire.
Privately-owned television stations, which specialise in spectacular scoops, made some very serious ethical blunders in 2006. In August, journalists on local stations in Bihar state purchased petrol and matches for a desperate man so that he could commit suicide on camera.
But parliamentarians are determined to amend the broadcast law chiefly to curb press sting operations to entrap people. “The media only reflects public anger (...) these operations show political corruption and rackets that are too common in our society,” said a presenter on CNN-IBN opposed to any restrictions on this practice. With more than 60 million subscribers, cable news channels have taken over as the country’s leading media.
The New Delhi government in November promulgated a revolutionary law on community radios which opened the way to long-awaited development of local media. But at the start of the year, a local news and music station, Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1, launched without a licence by a young equipment repair man in Bihar State, was closed down under the archaic Indian Telegraphs Act. The federal government awarded several hundred licences for privately-run FM stations in 2006, after years of protectionism. BBC Worldwide obtained seven licences for the country’s major cities.
The intrepidness of Indian journalists often leads to reprisals. At least 65 were assaulted or received death threats from police officers, criminals, company heads or political militants during the year.
Two journalists were murdered while doing their job during 2006. Prahlad Goala, working on a regional daily in Assam State in the north-east, was killed after writing articles exposing nepotism on the part of a local official. Also, in the north-east, a bureau chief escaped a murder attempt by an armed communist group. A young correspondent for a regional newspaper in Maharashtra State, central India, Arun Narayan Dekate, was stoned to death by gangsters he had named in his articles.
The authorities in Chhattisgarh State, east-central India, badly hit by a Maoist revolt, sacrificed press freedom to the fight against this new “terrorism”. A security order was adopted which allowed imprisonment from one to three years, for journalists meeting Maoist rebels. A score of reporters were assaulted or threatened with death by police officers or members of local militia supposed to counter the Maoist influence. At least two correspondents on the daily Hind Sat were forced to give up their work for fear of reprisals.
The press did not really benefit from the Indian-Pakistani rapprochement in Kashmir. Some increasingly radical separatist groups threatened suicide attacks on local cable television operators. Fearing for their safety, some of them decided to stop broadcasting channels considered “obscene” by the armed groups. Journalists were also targeted by these same groups. In June, Shujaat Bukhari, correspondent in Kashmir for the national daily The Hindu, escaped a murder attempt by armed men. Indians security services have also been implicated in attacks against the press, as in the assault, in September, on three reporters, who were beaten by police officers in the streets of Srinagar. Elsewhere, Abdul Rouf, of the Srinagar News, and his wife Zeenat Rouf, were arrested in November in disturbing circumstances. Photojournalist, Muhammad Maqbool Khokar has been held since September 2004, under an emergency public security law. Despite calls for his release from the justice system and the National Human Rights Commission, police have refused to let him go.