PRESS CUTS 13 – Media Freedom Round-up

Hong Kong | India | India -2 | India -3 | USA

Hong Kong

Concerns over media freedom increased in Hong Kong as the New Year rang in, with the closure of two independent, pro-democracy media outlets. Stand News closed its offices in late December, 2021 and several of its journalists were arrested on charges of publishing ‘seditious material’ during this time. Another pro-democracy news outlet Citizen News shut down in the first week of January fearing for the “safety and well-being of everyone” in the organization. Earlier in June, 2021, Apple News, another independent media outlet critical of Beijing, was shut even as its founder Jimmy Lai was in prison under the tough National Security Law. 

Earlier in June, 2021, Apple News, another independent media outlet critical of Beijing, was shut even as its founder Jimmy Lai was in prison under the tough National Security Law. 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has termed the crackdown on the press in Hong Kong in its ‘endgame’ following a year of arrests of journalists and shutdowns of media outlets. Since the promulgation of the National Security Law in 2020 in Hong Kong, there has been a targeted effort to clamp down local and international media through arrests, detentions as well as internal changes within national broadcasters, along with efforts to make it difficult to access public records. 

IFJ in its report ‘Lights out’ notes that many foreign journalists have shifted base from Hong Kong and several local journalists have been arrested during this time. However, Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, denied that press freedom was under threat in the region. 

Also read:

The End Of Media Freedom In Hong Kong? 

Hong Kong democracy and media freedom has ‘entered endgame’ 

India

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B), based on recommendations by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), revoked the broadcasting license for Media One, a Malayalam news channel on January 31, 2022 citing ‘national security’ concerns. A single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court on February 8, 2022 upheld the ban on the channel accepting the MHA’s yet undisclosed reasons of concerns over ‘national security’.  

The owners of the news channel and other petitioners in the case have filed an intra-court appeal to the division bench of the High Court. Their contentions include the uncertainty of the livelihoods of employees at the news channel because of the ban, the violation of fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 14, and the principles of natural justice – the organization was not given enough time to respond appropriately to the showcause notice issued by the MIB on why its license should be renewed. The petitioners also contend that security clearance for a news channel is given while applying for a license and not during its renewal, questioning the need to raise the issue at the time of its renewal after ten years.

Lawyers, activists, journalists and parliamentarians have expressed disappointment and extended support to Media One in a joint statement. They noted the ‘arbitrary’ action of the MIB as a ‘clampdown on broader press freedom in India.’ In 2020, Media One, along with Asianet, also a Malayalam news channel, was suspended for 48 hours for their coverage of the communal violence in North East Delhi.

Media One is operated by Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd., and its management comprises significant investors from the Kerala edition of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Other petitioners in this case include Media One’s employees and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ).

Also read:

Media One challenges Kerala High Court order upholding transmission ban

Interview | ‘Completely Kept in Dark’: MediaOne Editor on Channel Ban, HC Verdict and MHA 

India -2

Two journalists belonging to the local, independent media portal Kashmir Walla were arrested, granted bail, and rearrested under different cases in Kashmir in the last two months, coinciding with the forcible takeover of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) on January 15, 2022. Fahad Shah, Editor-in-chief of Kashmir Wallah was arrested on February 4, 2022 while Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter was arrested on January 6, 2022.

Both Sajad Gul and Fahad Shah were re-arrested following bail for their initial charges. Sajad Gul was arrested in a ‘criminal conspiracy’ case after he posted videos of protest of a family when ‘terrorist Saleem Parray’ was killed in Srinagar. He was later re-arrested under the Public Safety Act on January 15, 2022 after being granted bail in the ‘criminal conspiracy’ case. Fahad Shah was arrested on February 4, 2022 for ‘glorifying terrorism’, ‘spreading fake news’, and ‘creating law and order situations.’ While he was granted bail on February 26, 2022 by a National Investigating Agency (NIA) court, he was re-arrested in another case.

In a related development around this time, a group of journalists who declared themselves as ‘interim members’ took over the KPC after terming the current body ‘defunct’ following its failure to conduct elections on time.

In a statement the outgoing KPC members noted that they were held hostage and paramilitary forces had been deployed near the club before the incident. The KPC, an independent body formed in 2018, was waiting to hold elections as renewal of its registration had been delayed for nearly six months by the local administration.

Also read:

Journalist Fahad Shah arrested again after bail in Kashmir 

‘Systematic fear’: How India battered press freedom in Kashmir 

India -3

The new ‘Central Media Accreditation Guidelines’ issued by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) on February 7, 2022 has received criticism from journalist bodies in the country. The Editors’ Guild of India has termed the guidelines ‘vague, arbitrary, and draconian’ while the Press Club of India highlighted that they were framed without consultations with stakeholders in the media and were ‘unilateral’ and ‘unfair.’

Central to these criticisms are the conditions laid out in the guidelines which note that accreditation of journalists can be suspended when they ‘act prejudicially to the country’s security, sovereignty, and integrity’, hamper its relations with foreign countries, or for acts of defamation or contempt of court, among other reasons. The formation of the Central Media Accreditation Committee (CMAC), which has members nominated by the government, for granting accreditation to journalists, has also been questioned by journalist bodies.

The Press Club of India, Indian Women Press Corps, Working News Cameraman Association and other bodies have written to the MIB to withdraw the new guidelines, continue the older guidelines and extend the current accreditation for journalists till the end of 2022. They have also called for improved consultation and involvement of all stakeholders in framing the guidelines. The accreditation cards given by the PIB benefit journalists by giving easy access to sources within the government as well as providing necessary health and travel benefits.

Also read:

Journalists’ bodies raise objection to new PIB accreditation guidelines, write to I&B minister 

Why journalists are worried about the non-renewal of PIB accreditation cards

USA

In his first year in office, US President Joe Biden has not addressed main concerns of press freedom, a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report titled ‘Night and Day’ noted recently. The report adds to the concerns of press freedom highlighted by the US Press Freedom tracker done in collaboration with the CPJ and other media freedom organisations. Leaving out 2020 – a year considered disastrous for press freedom in the US under Donald Trump in his last year in office – the 2021 tracker notes physical attacks, damages to equipment, arrests and detainments on a record high in the US compared to the years from 2017 to 2019.  

Joe Biden has been considered more respectful of the press than his predecessor. However, some major challenges persist and remain unaddressed since the time of the past administrations, noted the CPJ report. The concerns include making the President more accessible to reporters and complying quickly with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Also, framing better policies to prevent government departments from questioning or searching journalists in the line of duty was another concern. Further, the report provides recommendations to stop misuse of the Espionage Act, especially against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – charges the Biden government has continued to press. The report has also recommended action against the Saudi Crown Prince for the murder of Washington Post’s journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Also read:

US: One year into the Biden administration, RSF calls for redoubled White House commitment to improving press freedom 

Another record year for press-freedom violations in the US

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Separate incidents of violence against journalists in Delhi and Bengaluru

Three journalists working for The Caravan were attacked by a mob in North East Delhi’s North Ghonda area. Journalists were attacked by both police and the mob in Bengaluru while covering violence in Banaswadi.

Two separate incidents of violence against journalists were recorded on August 11, 2020 in Delhi and Bengaluru respectively. Contributor to The Caravan Prabhijit Singh, Assistant Photo Editor, Shahid Tantray, and a female journalist working for the magazine were attacked by a mob in north-east Delhi’s North Ghonda neighbourhood. The journalists were reporting on communal tensions in the area following the August 5 Bhoomi Poojan in Ayodhya.

The journalists were attacked by around 100 people and were asked to delete their recordings, which included statements of Muslim families living in the area. Shahid Tantray, was targeted after the mob realised he was a Muslim based on his identity card. The woman journalist was physically and sexually assaulted. The incident happened when the journalists were shooting footage of saffron flags erected on a house in a narrow lane in Subash Mohalla. According to the journalists, passers-by, allegedly belonging to the BJP, objected to the filming and despite the journalists requesting them to speak to them and record their concerns, began insulting them. They noted that the crowd got more aggressive after realising that Tantray was a Muslim.

The journalists claimed that the police, who were called by people in the crowd, did not help in controlling the violence against them. The journalists, who had been covering consistently on the North-East Delhi riots in February, were in the area to speak to Muslim women and their families who had allegedly been physically and sexually harassed by the police at the Bhajanpura police station on the night of August 8. The women had gone to the police station to record complaints of alleged insults and communalising atmosphere by Hindu residents in the area on the eve of the Bhoomi poojan in Ayodhya.

In a separate incident of violence in Bengaluru, journalists belonging to The News Minute, India Today group, and Suvarna News 24×7 were attacked by policemen and the mob, when they went to cover the violence that broke out in Banaswadi on the night of August 11. According to India Today group journalist Nolan Pinto, he suffered injuries to his head and The News Minute’s Prajwal Bhat was hit on the thigh by policemen who were trying to disperse the journalists covering the violence, late in the evening. Ravi Kumar PS and his colleagues, Pradeep KM and Rudresh BV, at Suvarna News 24×7 were attacked by members of the mob and their equipment was destroyed when they went to cover the violence. The violence began after a social media post derogatory of the Prophet Muhammad was allegedly posted by Congress MLA Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy’s nephew Naveen.

The attack on the journalists was condemned by the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Editors’ Guild of India. Terming the attacks in the national capital as ‘ominous’, the Delhi Union of Journalists said that ‘such attacks threaten the entire journalist community and are attacks on the freedom of the press and democracy.’ The Editors’ Guild called both the attacks ‘reprehensible’ and called out the ‘indifferent’ attitude of the law enforcement agencies in the Delhi incident and its subsequent ‘failure’ in discharging its responsibilities in the Bengaluru incident.

More to read:

https://caravanmagazine.in/crime/delhi-police-beat-sexually-assaulted-us-bhajanpura-station-riots-complainant-daughter

https://thewire.in/media/caravan-journalists-attacked-ghonda-north-east-delhi-press-conference

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/08/12/bangalore-riots-five-journalists-hurt-in-attacks-by-rioters-and-police