It is said that a journalist lives by the story of the day. You are in circulation or your name is current the day your story appears in print or it is shown on television. In this age of conflict and war, it will not be exaggerating to say that ‘a journalist lives by the day’. The latest case is cold-blooded murder of Shujaat Bukhari, the Editor of Rising Kashmir, an English Daily published from Srinagar. Three bike-borne terrorists showered bullets on Bukhari’s car when he just entered to leave for home. The incident took place in the heart of the city – Lal Chowk.
Two things come to my mind. First, Bukhari was killed on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr as the holy month of Ramzan was to come to an end, so much for peace during the month of Ramzan. Terrorists have no regard for religion or religious values.
It was a mistake to suspend operation against terrorists for a month during Ramzan on the basis of the appeal of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who in good faith thought the suspension of operation against terrorists would give ‘peace a chance’. Her belief was mistaken. She was wrong. Terrorists and their patrons in the valley are hardcore elements who seized the opportunity to strike in absence of the suspension of operation by the armed forces in the valley.
That the month of Ramzan is neither holy nor pious for terrorists was proven again in the incident that took place the same day Bukhari was assassinated- June 14, 2018, when terrorists abducted a jawan who had gone to his home to celebrate Eid in Shopian. Aurangzeb, the jawan on leave was found dead with bullet-ridden body.
Paying Price for Honest Journalism
In today’s world ‘honesty is not the best policy’. You may end up paying price for your professional integrity and honesty by losing the job or by losing your life. Shujaat Bukhari was known for his moderate line. While editing Rising Kashmir, he followed a line that favoured the return of peace in the state. He paid the price by losing his life at the young age.
Bukhari is not the only journalist who lost his life while pursuing his profession with integrity and honesty. There were many journalists in India and world over who were killed for pursuing their profession.
Sandeep Sharma, a journalist who was writing on Sand Mafia in Madhya Pradesh was crushed by a speeding truck. Sharma was riding a bike. He died. This happened just a few months back.
Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh who worked for a Hindi daily in Bihar were killed by a speeding SUV in Bhojpur district. Both journalists were on motorbike.
According to a world survey, India comes 8th as the most dangerous place for journalists.
Cynics will not hesitate to say that the risk of life that journalist carries with them is ‘professional hazard’. This is true when a journalist is on field reporting war from the front or reporting riots in the thick of violence and arson. But the risk of life while reporting from peace zone is not a professional hazard.
I, as a young journalist myself, was caught in the war zone of Khulna sector during the 1971 Indo-Pak war while reporting for my newspaper from the war front. A threat loomed large on my head after I exposed the black deeds of a semi-religious cult in Bihar.
For pursing my profession honestly and with integrity, I had to lose my job for reporting JP Movement of 1974 in Bihar. The proprietors wanted me to tone down reporting of the JP Movement because the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not appreciate the way I was covering the movement. I politely declined to change my line of reporting to my editor. I had to go.
I must say here that today journalists carry bigger risks of life and job than what we had during our time of reporting in the late 1960s and in 1970s.
I quote the observations of Lee Woodyear, a Human Rights activist and journalist on hazards of journalism in the 21st century.
Woodyear, a former Human Rights Officer for the International Federation of Journalists and a freelance journalist, examines how bringing today’s news into living rooms and computer screens gets ever more dangerous.
An old adage goes, says Woodyear, the first casualty of war is the truth. Is the second casualty the truth-teller? In the battle to win the “hearts and minds” of the public, the media – and its “ground troops”, the reporters who cover the news – are taking greater risks than ever before to bring the news home, “live” and in “real time”. But at what cost? Many are maimed physically or psychologically, or both. Others die.
In India, we have journalist bodies like Editors Guild of India, Indian Federation of Working Journalists and Journalists Union but we don’t have any organization on human rights of a journalist.
Today, journalists are the most vulnerable section of our society. It is high time that Journalists bodies and Editors of Newspapers, Journals and those of Television News Channels try to seek protection and rights body. Mere guarantee of ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ as enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution is not enough.
R K SINHA
(The writer is a Member of Parliament)