New Delhi, Nov 16: First, let us remember all the "martyrs" from the media who have either been brutally attacked or killed while attending to their duties on the occasion of National Press Day on Thursday.
Popular journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was one of the most prominent faces from the field of journalism, who died in the line of duty after assailants shot her dead inside the premises of her home in Bengaluru, Karnataka on September 5 this year.
Unfortunately, in spite of so many protests demanding justice for Lankesh, known for her fierce journalism, her killers are still at large. Like in the case of Lankesh, killers of many journalists in India are scot-free as our governments fail to provide security to the members of the media community.
According to a report compiled by media watchdog Hoot, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 this year, as many as 54 attacks on journalists were reported in 16 months, mainly by "lawmakers and law enforcers" across the country.
The report said the actual figure could be much higher as a minister told Parliament that "142 attacks on journalists took place between 2014-15".
"The stories behind each of these attacks reveal a clear and persistent pattern. Investigative reporting is becoming increasingly dangerous.
"Journalists who venture out into the field to investigate any story, be it sand mining, stone quarrying, illegal construction, police brutality, medical negligence, eviction drive, election campaigns, or civic administration corruption are under attack," it said.
The attacks were committed by political parties and their leaders (8), police (9), and mobs resisting media coverage (9).
Apart from attacks, the report took into account invocation of sedition law, suspension of Internet services in a region, self-censorship on part of media companies, censoring of films and other arts, among other instances which may frustrate free functioning of the media.
Amid all these saddening stories, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleague and Union minister Smriti Irani wished journalists on their big day on Thursday, it was heartening to read the VIP messages, but at the same time several questions popped up in the mind like as to why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre failed to give "freedom" to journalists in terms of carrying out their work without any coercing.
The PM took to Twitter and posted a series of tweets that said: "My greetings to all friends in the media on National Press Day. I appreciate the hardwork of our media, especially the reporters & camerapersons, who tirelessly work on the ground and bring forth various news that shapes national as well as global discourse."
My greetings to all friends in the media on National Press Day. I appreciate the hardwork of our media, especially the reporters & camerapersons, who tirelessly work on the ground and bring forth various news that shapes national as well as global discourse.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 16, 2017
"The role of the media in giving voice to the voiceless is commendable. Over the last three years, the media has added great strength to 'Swachh Bharat Mission' and effectively furthered the message of cleanliness," Modi tweeted.
The PM praised the rise of social media and hopes that this advancement will make the media space even more democratic and participative.
"In this day and age we are seeing the rise of social media and news being consumed through mobile phones. I am sure these advancements will further the reach of the media and make the media space even more democratic and participative," he said.
He concluded by saying, "A free press is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. We are fully committed to upholding freedom of press and expression in all forms. May our media space be used more and more to showcase the skills, strengths and creativity of 125 crore Indians."
While it is fine that Modi appreciated the media for spreading messages on the government's pet projects like Swachh Bharat Mission, the silence of the PM over rise in numbers of defamation cases against media establishments for writing anything against the BJP and its leaders is also deafening.
Recently, the news website, The Wire, was dragged to the court by BJP president Amit Shah's son Jay Shah after it wrote about massive profit gained by junior Shah's company since the Modi government came to power at the Centre.
Moreover, Modi always shares a love-hate relationship with the media. While one section of the journalist community can't stop praising the PM, the critics of Modi and the BJP have been christened as "anti-nationals" by the PM's supporters.
Similarly, Irani too tweeted on the occasion:
On National Press Day, greetings to all media personnel. Best known as the fourth pillar of democracy, a vibrant and free press is instrumental in strengthening our democratic roots. Let us commit ourselves to using freedom of press responsibly & objectively.— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) November 16, 2017
Irani has the dubious distinction of having ugly spats with journalists over any critical reports against her or her colleagues.
So, all these wishes from the top politicians of our country look sham at a time when a section of the media industry has lost its credibility for siding with powerful people and those who want to follow the path of truth and integrity have badly come under attack.