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BackYou are here: AnalysisMedia Karnataka : Operation Media Gagging


Karnataka : Operation Media Gagging

Gauri Lankesh

THE Central home minister P Chidambaram has often issued veiled threats to intellectuals who offer covert or overt support to the Maoists, whom the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has identified as the ‘biggest internal security threat to the country’ today. While Singh and Chidambaram have limited themselves to issuing threats, the top brass in the Karnataka Government has opted for direct action. The police of Shimoga district has issued a ‘threatening’ notice to a young Kannada journalist.

Sometime last year, Rahul Belagali, a reporter with Prajavani, a leading Kannada daily, met with one of the state leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) at an ‘undisclosed’ location. The interview that was published in his newspaper was full of expected rhetoric from the Maoists. Statements like — ‘The Maoists will continue their struggle’, and the ‘Indian democracy is flawed’ are now cliché. Not too many people paid attention to the interview — it offered no new political insight, neither provided new information. Until now.

Perhaps in the light of recent events, the Shimoga police issued two notices to Belagali, the first one as recently as on April 8, citing the interview and asking Belagali to appear before them and reveal his sources. The police wanted to ascertain information about a case registered in 2009 against a state Maoist leader. If Belagali did not accede, the police threatened action against him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967.

The police sent a second notice to Belagali and this time to his Associate Editor, Padmaraj Dandavate. For Belagali, the second notice sounded alarm bells. It threatened to book him in four other cases — the Indian Arms Act, the Destruction of Government Property Act, the Explosives Act and the dreaded UAPA. Normally, the publisher of a newspaper accords protection to its reporters and holds up the fundamental rights of the media to protect its source. Unfortunately for Belagali, his publication did not stand up for him with all its strength. More interestingly, it did not appear to be interested in protecting the rights of the media. Instead it showed signs of wanting to ‘somehow get the matter settled’ and willingly become the fifth column of the government. That such a mighty media group was willing to let its reporter be threatened by the police is shocking, to say the least.

However, some human right activists and concerned journalists filed a complaint to the Editors Guild regarding the threats issued by the Karnataka Police to the two journalists. Rajdeep Sardesai, president of the guild, and Coomi Kapoor, the secretary general, have condemned the police action and said, “Professional ethics demand that mediapersons should protect their sources and not reveal their identities, when they request privacy. The confidentiality of a source is a well-established journalistic principle. Without such privilege, sources would not be willing to speak freely to the media, whose duty it is to report the facts fairly and objectively from all points of view to present a true picture to the public.’’

It is important to see the notices issued to Belagali in the context of the complaint filed against Arundhati Roy recently. A social worker from Chhattisgarh, Vishwajit Mitra, argued that Roy’s essay ‘Walking with the Comrades’ glorified the outlawed Maoists and sought to justify their activities. In his opinion, the essay and the photographs were liable to be viewed as an offence under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005.

That Operation Green Hunt, the State’s war against the Maoists, has claimed the freedom of the press should sound as a wake up call to all journalists and people in the media.

(Tehelka, 7th May)