Press freedom: May 2012

IN Media Freedom | 04/05/2012
As we observed World Press Freedom Day on May 03,
The Free Speech Hub took a closer look at curbs and restrictions on the media, attacks on journalists and media persons, and other incidents of threats to free speech in India that have taken place so far in 2012. Pix:

The free speech hub has recorded four assaults, 25 curbs/restrictions, three threats, 10 attacks, four restrictions via IT Act, one death and one arrest in 2012 so far.

More than half of the first month of 2012 saw incidents of threats to free speech on several levels. On New Year’s Day, a Chattisgarh based journalist had to face harassment by authorities—including being asked to vacate his house of ten years—because of his Sahara Samay story regarding a collector. Newspaper editorials in Manipur went blank to protest against continuous threats by militants, and a few days later, suspected militants hurled a hand grenade at the office of one such paper in Manipur. Attacks were also seen at the TOI office in Mumbai. The Jaipur Literary Festival was in the spotlight for different reasons as author Salman Rushdie’s reported participation in the festival led to debates, to him canceling his visit, and to several authors being advised by authorities to “leave Jaipur” after reading Rushdie’s work at the festival. Even attempts at a video conference with the author during this time were scrapped. Meanwhile, various online media developments further reduced media freedom in India. Twitter announced that upon request, it would block certain messages in countries where they were deemed illegal. Google revealed its new privacy policy, which includes the internet search engine being able to monitor user information. And at the Symbiosis College in Pune, a seminar on Kashmir was postponed after objections by an organization over Sanjay Kas’s documentary. These were just some incidents. There were more than 16 incidents of threats to free speech in India in the month of January alone.

In February, another literary festival witnessed a controversy, this time , in Kolkatta. The publishers of a book written by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen were not allowed to release it as per schedule at the Kolkatta International Book Fair. Additionally, Google quietly announced changes to its free-blogging platform that would enable the blocking of content only in countries where censorship is required. February also witnessed deliberate attempts by a steel company in Orissa to book two journalists under false and fabricated charges. In other developments, as per the amendments made to operators’ licenses, beginning May 31, operators would have to provide the Department of Telecommunications real-time details of users’ locations. The Intelligence Bureau of India also demanded that the telecoms ministry ask mobile phone companies to put mechanisms in place to track internet usage on mobile phones.

The month of March began with lawyers attacking journalists in Bangalore, SP workers attacking journalists in Jhansi, Congress MLA assaulting a senior photojournalist in Shillong, and a journalist being killed in Madhya Pradesh.  With regards to internet freedom, the month of March witnessed Aligarh Muslim University blocking Facebook on its campus, claiming that the content posted on the social networking website could hurt religious sentiments. Also, in Tamil Nadu, police restricted media coverage near a nuclear project protest site, and in New Delhi, a photo exhibit portraying gay life was forced to close.

In April, reporters were banned from House proceedings after publishing “unparliamentary words,” and the Delhi High Court restrained from posting any content against spiritual guru Nirmal Baba. The Allahabad High Court banned reports on army units movement near Delhi, and a senior reporter of Navbharat Times was assaulted by railway staff in Mumbai.  Additionally, the Arunachal Times office was attacked by unidentified youth, and a private TV channel’s vans were burnt down in Hyderabad as the network was reporting on clashes in the region. An Israeli writer was deported; and spiritual guru Nirmal Baba’s supporters attacked media in New Delhi.

The year 2012 has been eventful thus far. At The Free Speech Hub, it is World Press Freedom Day every day, and we continue to track media ethics and free speech issues. Keep an eye on our Free Speech Tracker for more. 

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