How does Violence against journalists threaten free speech?

Democracy Sep 02, 2021

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The press is often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy because journalists serve the nation by keeping a check on the functioning of governments. They ensure that citizens remain informed and therefore, play an integral role in supporting a democracy. But are journalists safe in India?

Late night, on August 8, Chennakeshavalu, a journalist from a local news channel- EV5 was allegedly stabbed to death by a police Constable and his brother in Nandyal of Kurnool district, Andhra Pradesh. Later, the Constable was identified to be Venkatasubbaiah, who along with his brother, Nani, called Chennakeshavalu to NGO Colony to discuss a news telecast by him. The telecast in question had a report which aired the alleged involvement of the Constable in the illegal sale of tobacco products and gambling. The Superintendent of Police (SP), Sudheer Kumar Reddy, alleged that the reporter was stabbed with a screwdriver, after which the accused fled the scene.

Following this, an eyewitness took Chennakeshavalu to the hospital immediately but he succumbed to his injuries and died at the age of 35. This is just one of the many cases that details the threat that journalists in India face when trying to expose corrupt government officials and people in positions of power.

The SP who is supervising the case assured journalists that an impartial investigation would be carried out, mentioning that teams were being formed to nab the accused brothers who were absconding at that point. Cases under IPC section 302 were registered against both Venkatasubbaiah and Nani.

The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists had expressed that they were saddened by the turn of events and demanded that the accused be arrested at the earliest.

The International Press Institute (IPI), which is a global network of editors, media executives, and reporters, called on authorities to hold those responsible for Chennakeshavalu’s murder accountable. Scott Griffen, IPI’s Deputy Director stated that impunity for crimes against journalists is incredibly high in India by bringing to notice how several cases of journalists being killed haven’t been thoroughly investigated.

Pointing to the death of Sulabh Srivastava in the Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, the IPI states that this is the second murder of an Indian journalist this year. The reporter died under mysterious circumstances a day after writing to the police about his fear of being targeted due to his investigative reports on the local liquor mafia. The IPI also noted that five journalists were killed in India in 2020.

Venkatasubbaiah and his brother were arrested on August 9 and are being questioned at an undisclosed location.

Meanwhile, the UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay issued a statement condemning the murder of the broadcaster.

For years now, journalists have been attacked physically, legally, and have also fallen victim to abuse on social media. It becomes the responsibility of the government to protect journalists who face threats and harassment, otherwise situations like this will persist and cast a shadow on the freedom of speech in India which is upheld by our fourth pillar. In the words of Audrey Azoulay, “Impunity must not be allowed to embolden the use of violence to restrict freedom of expression and the public’s right to access information.”

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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