Asom media hits back at militantøs diktat

BY nava| IN Regional Media | 20/06/2006
The meeting of journalists condemned the audacity of the outlawed outfit in issuing threats to media persons

Nava Thakuria

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had not only detonated nearly 25 explosions across the state during the second week of June, but also threatened four Guwahati-based media persons, which was of course responded to by the journalists fraternity of Asom. The banned outfit, which is fighting New Delhi for a home land of Asomiya people since 1979, launched an offensive on June 8 that killed nine persons and wounded hundred others. The explosions also damaged crude oil and gas pipelines, railway tracks, power supply installations and government offices.

Initially, the ULFA leaders took the responsibilities of some explosions, but denied their involvement in those blasts, where common people were killed and injured. Even the military chief of the underground outfit, Paresh Barua argued that the police department itself masterminded those explosions to malign the image of ULFA. However, the state police confirmed that the militant outfit masterminded all the blasts that took place in the duration. The state police Director General, Deepak Narayan Dutt stated that the police had specific evidence to confirm that all the blasts were engineered by the armed group.

Amidst all the hue and cry, four Asom based journalists were targeted by the outfit accusing them of `trying to create an atmosphere of confusion over the peace initiative to facilitate direct talks between Government of India and the ULFA`. In a recent statement, issued by the ULFA leader Paresh Barua and sent through e-mail to a section of Guwahati scribes, the outfit issued a note of warning to four media persons including the founding editor of `The Sentinel` D N Bezbaruah (also former president of Editors` Guild of India) and the executive editor of `Amar asom` Prashanta Rajguru. It may be mentioned that ULFA had lately shown interest in peace talks with the government and formed a group of civilians to pursue the course. The first round of talks between the outfit`s representative team, People`s Consultative Group (PCG) and the government took place on October 26 last year, where the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh (who represents Asom in Rajya Sabha) also graced. The second meeting was held on February 7 last and the third one is scheduled on June 22 next in New Delhi.

The threat to the journalists elicited a sharp reaction from fellow journalists and the media organizations in the state. Condemning the attitude of the ULFA, the Journalists Union of Assam (JUA), which is affiliated to Indian Journalists Union (IJU) organized a protest meeting at Guwahati Press Club on June 14 to hit back at ULFA. The well-attended meeting of journalists not only condemned the audacity of the outlawed outfit in issuing threats to media persons, but also asked to withdraw their diktat and warned them not to try to muzzle the freedom of the press in future.

The meeting also resolved to launch a signature campaign amongst all journalists and newspaper employees of the state in protest against ULFA`s attempt to terrorize media persons. Several speakers including Geetartha Pathak, Samudra Gupta Kashyap, Saifuddin Ahmed, Pranay Bardoloi, Rupam Baruah criticized the ULFA for trying to flex its muscle against media persons. "The ULFA has spoiled the spirit of a true revolution in Asom. They have turned out to be a bunch of criminals and emerged as traitors to the people of the state," said D N Chakraborty, the Editor of `Dainik Asom` from the chair of president in the protest meeting.

Earlier, New Delhi based editors of leading media organizations and columnists condemned the threat by the ULFA to senior editors and journalists of the state. Expressing the strongest opposition to efforts `to intimidate and muzzle the media in Assam, Manipur and other parts of the Northeast by armed groups`, in a press statement, the group of veteran journalists also observed that the pressures from State and non-State actors alike had increased in recent months in Northeast India.

`There cannot be any compromise on the freedom of _expression, a universal right, and we call upon all groups, including ULFA, as well as Government and non-government organizations, to respect this basic right unconditionally. It is this right that gives ULFA and similar groups extensive space in the media and it is unacceptable that these organizations should abuse such rights`, said in the statement that was signed by BG Verghese, former editor, Hindustan Times and Indian Express; Kuldip Nayar, eminent columnist; Mrinal Pande, Editor, Hindustan; Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Indian Express; HK Dua, Editor-in-chief, The Tribune; Ravindra Kumar, Editor, The Statesman; Harish Khare, Resident Editor, The Hindu; Siddharth Varadarajan, Deputy Editor, The Hindu; Om Thanvi, Editor, Jansatta, and Secretary, Editors Guild of India; Bharat Bhushan, Editor (New Delhi), The Telegraph; NK Singh, Editor, Dainik Bhaskar; Sanjoy Hazarika, Consulting Editor, The Statesman; Bharat Karnad, columnist and Suresh Bafna, Bureau Chief, Nai Duniya.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries, has also condemned the threats made against the journalists in Asom and gives its full support to the calls on the ULFA to unconditionally respect the rights of editors and journalists to report freely without fear or favour. "Any attempt at bullying or intimidating journalists strongly undermines freedom of _expression and the democratic role of the Indian media," said IFJ president Christopher Warren in a media release issued on June 15. It also added, "Indian journalists` right to freedom of _expression must be respected."

On the other hand, an editorial of `The Assam Tribune`, the oldest English daily of Northeast India, observed that `in the past also, the State witnessed threats and even attacks on newsmen by the members belonging to the ULFA and it is apparent that the leaders of the outfit do not have the tolerance to pay heed to the views of others and they expect that every person of the State would blindly support whatever they do`. The editorial titled `Threat to media` on June 15 argues that `the journalists should strongly resist such moves by the banned outfit to gag the media`. It also added, "In a democratic society, every person has the right to express his or her views and everyone may not support such views. But issuing threats to oppose views of any individual cannot be supported and it is a good sign that the journalists of the State have joined hands to oppose the action of the outfit.`





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