NWMI Affirms its Commitment to Uphold Press Freedom

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2019, the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), shines a spotlight on the difficult conditions under which media persons gather and disseminate credible news, the life-blood of democracy.

In a world increasingly besieged by fake news and post-truth patronised by those in power, the work of news persons has come under increasing pressure. Women journalists have been braving additional threats both within and without their organisations. The flood of revelations of sexual harassment during the #MeToo wave which engulfed the Indian media in October 2018, forced a public discussion of the rampant sexual harassment and inequity in the Indian media. Alongside, online abuse and trolling of women journalists have been increasingly used to silence dissent and diverse views.

India, like elsewhere in the world has seen a gamut of repressive attacks from all quarters, be it assassinations and attacks or arbitrary arrests under draconian laws, in Kashmir, the North Eastern states and central India. State repression coupled with corporate might, have increased and newer ways have emerged of silencing the media and curtailing their access.

In addition, journalists face precarious work conditions, lack of fair and assured wages and the rendering of several conventional jobs in the profession redundant by technological developments, contractualisation and arbitrary retrenchments.

While women journalists are equally impacted by all of these, they additionally face gender-based discrimination in their professional lives.

Covering Sabarimala temple entry issue was one of the most contentious in 2018. Saritha Balan from the News Minute was attacked by mobs protesting the presence of women, as was Shajila Ali Fathim, a cameraperson working with Kairali TV. A correspondent from New York Times and Pooja of Republic TV, Kavitha from Telugu channel Mojo TV, and several other women journalists were attacked, heckled and threatened. The Sabarimala Karma Samithi wrote to news outlets not to depute female journalists to cover the issue, thus curtailing access of women journalists from covering a significant story.

In Meghalaya Patricia Mukhim and Shobha Chaudhuri, the editor and publisher of The Shillong Times had to face the wrath of the judiciary for editorials on judges giving themselves benefits. Unidentified persons also attacked Mukhim’s home with petrol bombs in April 2018, provoked by her editorials on encounters and mining mafia.

One of the major concerns for press freedom in India is the prevalent culture of impunity. Despite recognising press freedom as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution, justice for the journalists who are victims of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence remains elusive. There is a lack of political will to undertake credible investigation to bring the perpetrators to trial and to ensure justice and compensation. The high prevalence of impunity often creates challenges, self-censorship and deters other journalists from speaking truth to power.

In times when there is evidence to show that the state is complicit in online and offline harassment of journalists, it is important to push for accountability from those in power, including media owners.

In this situation, NWMI affirms its commitment to raise a voice for press freedom and for journalists everywhere who strive to uphold the highest tenets of journalism, without fear or favour.

The Network of Women in Media, India

May 3, 2019