The incident in which a photojournalist was attacked by RSS workers in Kerala on World Press Freedom Day while doing his job, cannot but be seen with seriousness.
A protest rally was held in Malappuram by Hindutva outfits on Thursday alleging an anonymous attack on the RSS district office in the town the previous day. The journalist was attacked near the Press Club while attempting to capture the visuals of the protestors assaulting a bike rider. Mob attacks spearheaded by Sangh Parivar are not something new. There are recent instances before us of the teeth of Hindutva targeting mediapersons. Gauri Lankesh and Sandeep Sharma are victims of such attacks. The incident in Malappuram can be naturally considered as a sequel to that. We can hope that the authorities will display vigilance to bring the culprits before law.
After Narendra Modi came to power, a sense of insecurity has been evident in the media field as in other domains. A report released by Reporters without Borders (RSF- Reporters Sans Frontieres) a few days ago is the latest sign of that. The report shows that the level of freedom of press in the country has nosedived to a new low: India ranks 138 in the list of 180 countries; which means below average. Neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Afghanistan are ahead of us. What is most notable is that the freedom of press in our country has been declining every year. The position which had been 133 in 2016 and 136 the very next year has now ‘gone up’ in count again. When one notices the draconian media laws prepared by the Sangh Parivar to be tested in states where BJP is in power, one can easily get convinced how we have been losing that freedom. An example is the Bill introduced by the Rajasthan government to prevent corruption investigations against judges, people’s representatives and officials and news reports related to this. One provision in the Bill bars the media from reporting on corruption accusations till the sanction to proceed with the probe is obtained from the government. What is behind this is the clandestine move to transform media houses into PR agencies that write only what the government says. Although the Bill was withdrawn following huge opposition that can reasonably be seen only as temporary. This is because the Bill has been prepared with the full backing of the central government. There are also prospects of such a law being introduced at the national level. So much is our government's fear of the media.
Curiously enough, the government is seeking to tighten ‘censorship’ even as our mainstream media is by and large are becoming the organ of the government. In recent times, our mainstream media has not been prepared even to raise a corruption charge against the government. What we witness during these times when the country is going through critical times, is that the media – duty-bound as it is to raise its voice against it - glossing over its mission and singing praise of the regime. Only days ago did reports come out of some editors accepting money by writing pro-Hindutva stories to help BJP win power. If at all we hear any isolated voices of dissent, they are from alternate media and social media. Modi's government is trying to silence even those. To be seen in this context is the move of the I&B ministry to bring social media into the ambit of conventional media. What it aims through such 'censorship' is to check people's interventions through social media and thereby suppress the protests of the civil society. It is when even after this any one seeks to have free media that he becomes a victim of the kind of Hindutva mob attacks as happened in Malappuram. Translation: in Modi's India, media which we term as the fourth estate of democracy is not safe. The regime will resist it by controls and press-gagging laws. If they don't achieve their ends, they will get it executed through frenzied mob. This politics of mob frenzy has to be put an end to. In the context of the Malappuram incident, let not the voices heard through the new media die out.