Freedom of the press

Aheli Moitra

“I can’t wait to go to my newsroom.”

Wa Lone, a 33-year-old journalist from Myanmar, said this on being released from prison alongside his colleague, Kyaw Soe Oo (29) on May 7. The two Reuters journalists were jailed in Myanmar after they were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act and spent more than 500 days behind bars. They were released by President Win Myint as part of a pardon that saw the release of thousands of other prisoners in mass amnesties as per customary practices in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners across the country around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17.

Before their arrest in December 2017, reported Reuters, the two had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.

Journalists in India, similarly, have seen a gamut of repressive attacks, be it assassinations and physical attacks, or arbitrary arrests under draconian laws.

“State repression coupled with corporate might, have increased and newer ways have emerged of silencing the media and curtailing their access,” stated the Network of Women in Media, India, in a press release on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, upholding its commitment to press freedom. In addition, it pointed out, 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, contractualization and arbitrary retrenchments.

Nagaland is not to be left behind in problematic treatment of media. People consistently taunt the local media for not doing enough investigative reporting – but as soon as an investigative report appears, bureaucrats and affiliated persons pounce on newspapers to discredit the report and reporters, going to the extent of threatening media houses with legal action. The police often become willing compatriots in this draconian use of law.

What more, some newspapers in the State publish attacks on other media houses by people while doing little to unionize and uphold the rights of journalists by following due process when allegations are made. This inability of Nagaland’s media persons, as well as media organizations, to unionize appropriately has led to degradation of the profession with little to no respect left for it and weak support systems that could have otherwise assured some progress in press freedom. This has resulted in a shrunken space for good reportage, with restricted ability to report on matters that would expand the democratic space.

In a place that has seen a century of militarization and impunity, the State has a responsibility towards the press that goes beyond advertising and propaganda. If the State is unwilling to harness a strong fourth estate, responsible officers should use the medium to clean up the system. With a little courage from media houses to support journalists – their own and from competing media houses – in exposing unjust governance, even journalists in Nagaland will await the day when going to the newsroom becomes a matter of excitement.

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