June 30, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Chhattisgarh’s law to protect journalists and press freedom will prove effective. We also look at the mysterious pig deaths in Arunachal Pradesh, among other news.


Will Chhattisgarh’s law to protect journalists and press freedom prove effective?

Journalists often report on the government’s excesses, trip-ups, and the protection of democratic or constitutional principles. Toeing the line is sometimes part of the job. Nowhere are State excesses as pronounced as in sites of conflict. Journalists navigate conflict zones, often putting their lives on the line. Think about it: without them, we’d be stuck with the government’s narrative, like a never-ending rerun of a bad – often preachy and bumptious – TV show.

One of India’s conflict zones is in Chhattisgarh. The Red Corridor, as some call it. In March 2023, the Chhattisgarh state assembly passed the Chhattisgarh Protection of Media Persons Act to protect journalists from the threats that arise due to violence and government crackdowns. After Maharashtra, it’s the second state in the country to protect journalists through legislation. But does it tick the right boxes?


Let’s get real for a minute. What does putting your life on the line even mean? Reporting in conflict zones involves three main kinds of threats. One comes from the fact that you might be caught in the crossfire between the warring factions, the Maoists, state security forces, and civilians, in this case.

The other two threats emerge directly from the warring factions. Journalists face threats of kidnapping and violence from insurgents who may perceive them as state actors. Or from agents who aren’t happy with their coverage of the atrocities there.

One such agent is the government because our police and army personnel often engage in extra-judicial violence too. Apart from intimidation and hounding, there’s the threat of being put behind bars.

The last scenario isn’t that hard to imagine. In Chhattisgarh, critical coverage of the violence has landed many media persons in jail. But why does the government often favour optics over journalistic freedom in conflict areas?

Well, one answer is that optics is essential in any war. In conflicts where violence occurs between a state and its own actors, optics are a part of the nation-state’s strategy. Intra-state conflicts often tie a government up in perpetrating violence against the very people it serves to protect. In such cases, if it doesn’t appear righteous, or its actions are perceived as crossing lines, then its defence and offence are weakened.

Chhattisgarh was formed out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000. The Bharatiya Janata Party, with Raman Singh at its helm, has spent the longest time in office – three consecutive terms until 2018 when Bhupesh Bhagel of the Indian National Congress took over.

Under the Raman Singh government, the police were known to intimidate and arrest journalists. In 2016, when a team from the Editors Guild of India ventured into Chhattisgarh, they uncovered a troubling reality. In the conflict-ridden area of Bastar, fear loomed large among reporters. Even those in its capital, Raipur, worried about having their phones tapped. The state government wanted the media to portray its battle against the Maoists as a national security issue, discouraging critical questioning.

Prakash Chand Dhoka, the Balaghat correspondent of Lokmat Samachar, a Hindi daily, was charged with extortion when he reported the State’s excesses against the Adivasi community.

When Congress returned to power in 2018, there was some hope that things may change for the better. But they didn’t. In March 2021, journalist Sunil Namdev, a vocal critic of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, was arrested, and subsequently, his farmhouse was demolished by the Nava Raipur Development Authority. In December 2022, Nilesh Sharma, editor of Indiawriters.co.in, was incarcerated for his political satirical.

To address this, the government proposed a bill in 2020. It had been one of its promises before coming to power.

The Act that was passed covers journalists, stringers, freelancers, hawkers, and other associated agents like drivers and translators. It guarantees to establish a committee to address harassment complaints faced by journalists.

The initial draft mentioned imprisonment of up to one year for public servants who neglect their duties, but this clause was omitted in the final version. Instead, public servants will face suitable penalties as per the rules. The Bill also imposes a fine of ₹25,000 on private individuals responsible for violence, harassment, or intimidation against media personnel.

Opinion is divided on this one. While some appreciate its comprehensive approach to media persons, others question if it does more than scratch the surface of guaranteeing press freedom.

VIEW: It checks the right boxes

Credit where it’s due. The definition of media persons in the Act is pretty comprehensive. It goes the extra mile by casting its net over those who collaborate with journalists and may face threats or intimidation. It protects those ground reporters and frontline journalists who face grave risks. In this sense, it one-ups the Maharashtra legislation, which has a limited scope. It also sets transparent criteria for registering as a media person.

Its comprehensiveness extends to understanding the different kinds of threats faced by journalists. It seeks to offer them protection against public servants, private entities, and unfair prosecution. The penalty for private entities is ₹25,000. The one-year penalty was omitted so the Act doesn’t attempt to change the Indian Penal Code and get held up.

Let’s talk about the benefits of having a Media Freedom, Protection, and Promotion Committee headed by a retired administrative or high-ranking police officer. When a media person undergoes an investigation, inquiry, or trial, the committee will step in to determine whether it’s being done fairly. If it deems the case fit for withdrawal from prosecution, the committee will submit its report to the public prosecutor. Having senior officers at the helm could expedite processes.

COUNTERVIEW: A watered-down version

The final Act differs substantially from the draft Bill of 2020. Several provisions were omitted, chief among them being the one-year punishment for public servants who neglect their duties. While it emphasises that any public servant who “willfully neglects duties” will face consequences, it doesn’t explicitly define what constitutes neglect or specify the punishment.

The law’s assessment of threats and protection is entrusted to district collectors and police officials who may target journalists themselves. It leaves little room for fearless reporting as journalists fear being labelled as informers by either the police or the Maoists. Also, the law lacks a provision for the protection committee to proactively address complaints unless directly brought forward.

For a Bill intended to protect a vulnerable group, including provisions for punishing members of that same group for wrongdoing may be problematic. It embeds the imbalanced power dynamics between the State and the so-called Fourth Pillar within the Act. While some may argue that the penalty is meagre, for ground reporters and frontline newsgatherers, it’s a huge sum. The term “fake news” is ambiguous, and enshrining punishment for it grants excessive authority to the State.

Reference Links:

  • Chhattisgarh assembly passes bill for protection of journalists – Hindustan Times
  • ‘Not a single journalist working without fear or pressure’: Editors Guild on Bastar – Scroll
  • ‘We are on our own’: Journalists arrested in Chhattisgarh lament lack of support from employers – Scroll
  • ‘Promise Fulfilled’: Decoding Chhattisgarh’s New Law To Protect Journalists – The Quint
  • Chhattisgarh’s new law for safeguarding journalists’ rights: Does it do enough? – The Leaflet
  • Why Chhattisgarh’s journalists aren’t sold on its mediapersons protection law – Newslaundry

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Chhattisgarh’s law to protect journalists and press freedom will be effective.

b) Chhattisgarh’s law to protect journalists and press freedom won’t be effective.


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New High Court Complex (Jammu & Kashmir) – Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud laid the foundation for the new high court complex in Jammu. The modern complex will cost over ₹800 crore and is located in the Raika forest belt on Jammu’s outskirts. It is seen as a much-needed upgrade from the current one that has safety issues. The construction was approved with the use of 40 hectares of forest land.

Why it matters: Some organisations are unhappy with the new complex being constructed on forest land. The Forest Advisory Committee and the State Board for Wildlife approved the project with additional conditions for tree felling and compensation. The Raika forest is often called the lungs of Jammu and is home to several plant and animal species. It’s also home to Adivasi communities.

Cash instead of rice (Karnataka) – Since the state failed to secure the necessary quantity of rice for its Anna Bhagya scheme, the government decided to pay ₹34 per kg for the additional 5 kg of rice promised to below-poverty-line families. The government said this is temporary and rice will be distributed once they get the required quantity. To get the rice, the government is looking at an open market tender process.

Why it matters: The Anna Bhagya is one of the five signature schemes promised by Congress during the campaign. It promised to increase the monthly quantity of rice provided to poor families. The state government is looking at how it can provide free rice to about 14 lakh families. State Minister HK Patil said the state needs 22,000 tonnes of rice for the scheme.

Money for power sector reforms (Odisha) – The state government has been permitted to raise ₹2,725 crore for power sector reforms. It’s among the 12 states that were given permission to do so for the ongoing reform process in the power sector. The initiative was announced in the 2021-22 Budget. There’s additional borrowing room for up to 0.5% of the gross state domestic product (GSDP).

Why it matters: Over the past two financial years, states have been allowed to raise ₹66,413 crore for reforms. The government wants Odisha and other states to improve their power sector’s efficiency and performance. The additional money is contingent on the implementation of specific power sector reforms.

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Why it matters: The Congress’ strategy is similar to what it did ahead of the recent Karnataka polls with its “PayCM” poster targeted against the previous chief minister Basavaraj Bommai. Madhya Pradesh is slated to go to the polls later this year. The Congress claimed it was the BJP that began the poster war with its Wanted Commission Nath poster against Kamal Nath.

Mysterious pig deaths (Arunachal Pradesh) – In the state’s Tirap district, the deaths of 30 pigs under unknown circumstances have caused panic among locals. The pigs were brought to the Chomuithong village from Assam and died suddenly without cause. Tirap Deputy Commissioner Hento Karga said the veterinary and animal husbandry department will investigate. Poultry farms in nearby areas have also been affected.

Why it matters: Over the past couple of years, the northeast region has seen thousands of pigs die due to African Swine Fever. Earlier this year, Assam banned the entry of pigs and poultry to the state due to increased cases of avian influenza. The cause of the deaths in Arunachal is yet unknown though the veterinarians are still on the ground.


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