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From being called ‘presstitutes’ to getting killed, lives of journalists come cheap

By Maitreyee Boruah

On one hand there is a group of "celebrity" journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghosh and Ravish Kumar, to name a few, who are regularly trolled on the social media. Their critics often call them "presstitutes".

The word is a blend of press +‎ prostitute. The comparison comes from the notion that they sell themselves for money and are thus biased in disseminating information. On the other hand, there are journalists like Rajdev Ranjan, the bureau chief of the Hindi daily Hindustan, who was shot dead in Bihar's Siwan district on Friday (May 13).

rajdev ranjan murder case

In fact, just 24 hours before Ranjan was killed by unidentified people, another journalist, 35-year-old Akhilesh Pratap Singh, was shot dead in Jharkhand's Chatra district.

The police in both the states are yet to arrest the culprits. The media fraternity across the country has strongly condemned the killings and has demanded justice for the slain scribes.

It is not clear yet if either of these deaths is linked to their media practice. However, this brings the toll of journalists being murdered this year to three.

Press freedom under attack

As a part of the World Press Freedom Day, marked across the globe on May 3, The Hoot-- a media watchdog-- in its report stated that between January and April 2016 there were at least 10 defamation cases, two legal notices, six cases of uncalled police action, one death, four legal actions, 26 attacks and six death threats against journalists in the country.

The report adds that Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have been particularly bad for press freedom, as defamation cases and assaults on journalists are frequent in these states. The report brings to notice that journalists working in the hinterlands of the country are the most vulnerable and face great amount of threat while doing their work.

Will Narendra Modi protect journalists?

India ranked an abysmally low at 133 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index which says Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems "indifferent" to the threats against journalists. While Modi expressed his condolences at the death of Baba Hardev Singh, head of Nirankari Mission, who was killed in a road accident in Montreal, Canada on Friday, the PM's Twitter timeline has no mention about the killings of the two journalists.

"Baba Hardev Singh's demise is tragic & a great loss to the spiritual world. My thoughts are with his countless followers in this sad time," tweeted Modi.

However, Modi's colleague and Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted his condemnation and sought an independent investigation to punish the guilty.

"I strongly condemn murder of journalists Rajdeo Ranjan in Siwan and Akhilesh Pratap Singh in Chatra district. Independent investigation may be instituted and guilty be punished," Jaitley posted on Twitter.

Journalists stand united in difficult times

The Press Club of India, the Indian Women's Press Corps and media organisations from different parts of the country termed the murders a "direct attack on the freedom of the press". Press Club of India president Rahul Jalali in a statement said both murders "were targeted killings and form a part of attempts by the mafia to muzzle the independent voice of the media."

"It is with increasing dismay we also note the increase in attempts to target the press throughout the country, by denigrating them and if nothing else works by eliminating them as has happened in these two cases," he said.

Nadeem Ahmad Kazmi, secretary general of the Press Club of India, demanded that central and state governments come down heavily on the culprits and "also create an atmosphere conducive to the free and fair functioning of the media in the country."

The Indian Women's Press Corps urged the government to take immediate steps to find the culprits. It said the "deliberate targeting" of the two journalists "is clearly an attempt to prevent the functioning of a free and independent media in the country."

It also said "the IWPC also views with deep concern the efforts to smear the reputation of media professionals in many parts of the country."

Politics over dead journalists

Instead of making sure that the culprits behind the heinous murders get arrested, politicians got busy to score some political mileage out of these two incidents.

BJP leaders attacked Nitish Kumar over the law and order situation in Bihar following the murder of the journalist and the killing of a teenager in Gaya and said that "maha jungle raj" has returned with the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) coming to power in the state.

"Before the Bihar election we were saying jungle raj will return to Bihar if the Mahagathbandhan comes to power, but we were wrong. Ab to maha jungle raj aa gaya hai (Now, there is big jungle raj)," BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said.

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