In Chhattisgarh, which is ruled by Congress, at least half a dozen journalists were either charged by the state or attacked or threatened by non-state actors, which included members of ruling party, as well as Maoists. In September, senior journalist and leader of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, Kamal Shukla, was attacked by local Congress leaders in north Bastar. Ironically, the Congress party in its manifesto for the 2018 Assembly election, had promised to enact a law to protect journalists, which is yet to be fulfilled.
Meanwhile, according to Praful Thakur, vice president of the Raipur Press Club, in the two years since the Congress is in power, the police have booked at least 35 media persons under various sections of the Indian penal code.
It is also alleged that Thakur, who has been leading the campaign to ensure justice for Kamal Shukla, was transferred by his Newspaper (Nav Bharat Hindi daily) to Jashpur, a remote district of the state, where not even the newspaper reaches. Notably, the current media adviser to the state chief minister is former editor of the Hindi daily. Two years after the announcement, earlier this month, the state government released the proposed ‘Chhattisgarh Patrakar Suraksha Kanun’ (Chhattisgarh Journalist Safety Law). However, the journalists, especially those working in the conflict-ridden region Bastar, are of the view that the proposed law will do little to shield them from harassment.
In May this year, the Supreme Court of India restrained the West Bengal Police from arresting five TV journalists, who were booked in as many as five cases after they conducted a sting operation to show the state ministers and ruling party Trinamool Congress MLAs allegedly taking bribes. Moreover, the state police arrested two journalists belonging to a YouTube channel ‘Arambagh TV’ in retaliation for reporting on alleged corruption in the distribution of government funds to private clubs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same month, the West Bengal police opened an investigation into the editor of the leading Bengali daily Anandabazaar Patrika following a complaint from a senior bureaucrat over the newspaper’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the Kolkata Press Club issued a statement condemning a comment made by senior TMC leader and MP Mahua Moitra for calling local journalists and press as ‘two paisa press’. Moreover, in April, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was reported to have warned journalists to behave “properly”, accusing many of them of falling for BJP’s propaganda during the coronavirus outbreak.
In neighboring state Assam, ruled by BJP, a journalist with local TV channel was arrested in July by the state police after his reports on alleged rampant cattle smuggling that has been plaguing Dhubri district of the state. On November 15, another journalist named Milan Mahanta was tied to a pole in the middle of a busy road and beaten up by a gang of gamblers in Mirza, which is 45 km west of Guwahati, the state capital.
The same month, the Editors Guild of India wrote a letter to the chief minister of Assam, expressing its concern about the growing incidents of violence against journalists in the state. “They have been subjected to mob attacks, intimidation, and threats, which is vitiating the environment necessary for the functioning of an independent and vibrant media. While we appreciate your firm condemnation of these incidents, the situation demands your urgent intervention to assure the media that they are safe to report without fearing retribution from the criminal mafia,” read the letter.
In Tripura, the pandemic provided the pretext for the state government to assault journalists and silence the media. The attacks forced journalists of the state to protest against Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. Recently, the Press Council accepted a complaint against the Tripura chief minister for threatening the media. Moreover, this month, three journalists were allegedly assaulted when they were covering a clash between ruling BJP and opposition CPI(M) workers in the state.