Lucknow: Journalists covering a protest by the Samajwadi Party on the lawns of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly were beaten up by marshals on Monday, February 20. Some of the senior journalists suffered injuries, and a photojournalist was punched in the face.
The incident took place minutes before governor Anandiben Patel was to arrive at the Assembly to address the lawmakers to kick-start the budget session.
The protest was called by the Samajwadi Party – the principal opposition party in the state – against unemployment, agrarian crisis, price rise, among other issues due to the alleged failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The scheduled protest was to take place at the statue of former prime minister Chowdhry Charan Singh on the lawns of the Assembly, which has served as the spot for such opposition protests for long.
According to journalists, the marshals resorted to violence only to stop them from covering the protest. As the marshals tried to remove journalists from the protest site, there was a commotion, scuffle and stampede-like situation. Cameras and other equipment of media personnel were damaged in the incident.
They said it was “unprecedented”, for such violence against journalists on the premises of the Assembly was unknown. They also questioned the involvement of marshals whose role is limited to handling the situation inside the House and not outside. It is the police who are responsible for handling the situation outside the House.
Speaking to The Wire, a senior broadcast journalist, Semab Naqvi, said, “It seems that it was a very deliberate attempt to whitewash the coverage of the opposition in the media. Marshals tried to stop me from coverage; this was the first time anyone interrupted the media coverage inside the state assembly.”
Vishal Srivastava, the photojournalist who was punched in the face, said marshals misbehaved with journalists and beat them up. “We have been covering the state assembly for more than a decade but never faced such humiliation in the line of duty. We will raise the issue before the higher authorities of the government. Otherwise, this will become a precedent to gag the media.”
The Uttar Pradesh Accredited Correspondent Committee (UPACC) condemned the incident and met with Assembly Speaker Satish Mahana to register their protest and demanded stern action against the marshals involved in the incident.
Hemant Tewari, the president of the UPACC, said, “Journalists met the speaker, Satish Mahana, after the house proceedings and apprised him of the unfortunate incident. Mahana was not aware of the incident, but promised an investigation into the incident.”
“We have never witnessed such appalling behaviour from marshals. This is the first time in the history of the UP Assembly that journalists were subjected to such rowdy behaviour during assembly coverage,” the UPACC added.
It is also pertinent to recall that nearly 900 journalists from print and broadcast media are accredited in the state by the Uttar Pradesh Information Department. Some of these journalists covered the house proceedings. Most of the time, the Vidhan Sabha gave them a separate pass for the coverage.
In the past, non-accredited journalists who wanted to cover the assembly were also given special passes on the recommendation of UPACC. But Tewari was told that henceforth, no special passes would be given to journalists who were not accredited. Now, the assembly secretariat will make all the decisions about the assembly coverage.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav condemned the attack on journalists. The former chief minister said that the BJP government had turned the entire system into a “dictatorship”. He said it is the democratic right of the opposition to protest and raise its voice on public issues and it is the responsibility of the media and journalists to cover it.
“It is undemocratic that journalists are being assaulted on Vidhan Sabha premises. The BJP government does not want to see and hear news about its misgovernance,” Yadav said.
Edited by Vikram Mukka