Media

Delhi Riots: Proactive Policy Needed to Protect Journalists, Media Rights Body Says

The South Asian Media Defenders Network issued the statement in the light of mob attacks on journalists reporting the violence in Delhi.

New Delhi: In the light of news that reporters, journalists and photojournalists were attacked and threatened by rioting mobs in Delhi, the South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) has issued a statement saying “robust and proactive policies and laws” are required to protect the press.

“Reporters have been shot at, beaten, abused, surrounded and intimidated as they have gone about mapping the violence that was unleashed by mobs in the North-eastern part of Delhi. Some were threatened by mobs and asked to prove that they were Hindu, others were punched and hit with sticks,” the statement reads. The statement adds that “the violence stressed the failure of the administration and the police to handle the situation.”

To prevent mediapersons from doing their job with “attacks and threats” constituted not just a ‘criminal offence’ but ‘a threat to a free press’, the statement reads. “It was a violation of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution and of the public’s right to know. In addition, journalists needed to be alert of potential threats and life-threatening situations and be equipped, mentally and physically, to handle them,” SAMDEN said.

Also Read: Delhi Riots: Journalists Shot at, Punched, Asked to Prove Religion

Stressing that media associations need to show solidarity, SAMDEN’s India convenor Sanjoy Hazarika said it is also necessary to develop policies for the protection of the press. “Without the armour of legal protection and insurance cover, many journalists and their families remain at high risk and extremely vulnerable. This is a process that media leaders need to engage with in a structured way: Delhi and other incidents have emphasized that journalists need such kind of protection,” he said, in the statement.

SAMDEN is a network of professional media, RTI advocates and bloggers, many of whom have faced threats and intimidation in their personal and professional lives.

The full statement has been reproduced below.

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SAMDEN: the media needs a pro-active protection policy

New Delhi, Feb 26 – The South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) today said that mob attacks on journalists, photographers and media professionals underscored the need to develop robust and pro-active policies and laws to protect the press.

Reporters have been shot at, beaten, abused, surrounded and intimidated as they have gone about mapping the violence that was unleashed by mobs in the North-eastern part of Delhi. Some were threatened by mobs and asked to prove that they were Hindu, others were punched and hit with sticks. One journalist with the Times of India said in a first-person account that she planned to wear a helmet as protection from stone-pelters. The violence stressed the failure of the administration and the police to handle the situation.

“Such incidents in Delhi show that even basic reporting has become a dangerous profession,” said Sanjoy Hazarika, the India Convenor of SAMDEN. “Journalists go out into the world every day to do what they do and know best – report the news as it is happening around them so that the rest of the world hears, sees and reads about it.”

To prevent them from doing their job with attacks and threats constituted not just a criminal offence but constituted a threat to a free press. It was a violation of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution and of the public’s right to know. In addition, journalists needed to be alert of potential threats and life-threatening situations and be equipped, mentally and physically, to handle them.

“We call on the Government of India, and especially the Delhi police which report directly to the Centre, and the Delhi government to uphold the freedom of the media and provide protection to professional media who are just doing their job,” Hazarika added. While media associations need to show solidarity, he said that it was also necessary to develop policies for the protection of the press. Without the armour of legal protection and insurance cover, many journalists and their families remain at high risk and extremely vulnerable. “This is a process that media leaders need to engage with in a structured way: Delhi and other incidents have emphasized that journalists need such kind of protection.”

SAMDEN is a network of professional media, RTI advocates and bloggers, many of whom have faced threats and intimidation in their personal and professional lives. Hazarika’s co-conveners across South Asia are Mahfuz Anam of the Daily Star, Dhaka, Kumar Lopez of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, Kanak Mani Dixit from Nepal and Boston-based Beena Sarwar.