Special security measures needed for journalists in India's Maoist insurgency areas
Situation reports on journalism in three states that have witnessed some of the most intense conflict - Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand - were presented and discussed.
Hazards for journalists have been mounting in recent years, with increasing violence, splits within the Maoist ranks and demands that coverage be tilted to favour one or the other side in the conflict.
Many journalists in these states are known to receive frequent telephone calls from elements in the Maoist leadership, outlining tactical and operational priorities. These are reported in a professional manner, to the extent that they serve the purpose of informing the public and may serve to safeguard innocent civilian life.
There is suspicion among journalists in these three states that their phones are tapped by the security agencies.
Police personnel have on occasion been known to use media identities to infiltrate Maoist operational areas for intelligence gathering, increasing the risk that journalists may face retribution from the insurgents. In these states, police are also known to use their special powers to punish critical journalists, often using the most draconian provisions of the law such as those pertaining to sedition.
The climate of insurgency has also skewed the system of rewards and incentives for journalists. Recognition is granted to a professional journalist only if he or she is able to bring out seemingly sensational stories from the Maoist operational areas. Stories which highlight the general state of poverty and deprivation in the region and the poor state of social services, which are the background conditions in which the Maoist rebellion has taken root, do not earn great professional recognition.
This also creates a situation where every Maoist action is reported on and often sensationalised. A general strike call for instance, emanating from operationally very weak quarters of the Maoist insurgency, can paralyse life in large parts of these states if featured as a news story.
In addition, journalists face physical and professional insecurity. Few of them have letters of appointment and they mostly work at salary levels well below the subsistence minimum. Most of them are expected to serve multiple functions, gathering advertisements for their media, severely impairing their independence.
The issuance of press credentials in these states lacks any formal procedure. Media owners are known to dominate the process and to corner available quotas in the issue of official press accreditation cards, monopolising access to official spaces.
The meeting adopted a campaign plank that put forward a set of specific demands, including insurance cover for all journalists assigned to work in districts of active Maoist insurgency, and special credentials for media personnel, including if necessary district-level accreditation for these individuals.
It was proposed that journalists' unions in these states would:
- Launch a campaign to generate public awareness on the need for the media to work in an environment free of fear;
- Seek to secure a public declaration from all sides in the conflict, that media would be granted unfettered access to all sites of news importance;
- Develop a safety code and code of ethics for adoption by editorial departments and the reporters in the field which would include safeguards against misrepresentation of realities on the ground which often leads to the prospect of retaliation against specific journalists;
- Expand union membership and provide unrepresented journalists a platform;
- Ensure that until issues of accreditation are resolved, union identity cards will be widely accepted as adequate proof of media credentials.
"The IFJ extends its full support to this campaign and stands ready to help out in any way possible", said Wolfgang Mayer, honorary treasurer and member of the IFJ administrative committee.
"The conflicts in these Indian states have to be resolved through an assertion of basic democratic norms and entitlements. And for this, we need due recognition of the role that journalists play as defenders of democracy".
What other IFEX members are saying
Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch)