A press statement from online portals-channels in Bengal

The Jail Walls Can't Stop Independent Voices

Release all journalists in jails and withdraw the cases against others too


A press statement from online portals-channels in Bengal: Protest against increasing arrests and intimidation of professional and independent digital media journalists.

We are some independent online news and views portals, Radio stations and TV channels as well as individual citizen journalists and other social media practitioners from Bengal. We are deeply concerned and vehemently opposed to the increasing attacks on media freedom in India, particularly, the small media outlets outside the corporate-controlled houses.

The BJP-RSS governments at the Centre and the states have unleashed an onslaught on all media persons who are critical to the regime's pro-corporate and communal laws, policies and the Sangh Parivar ideology. Sedition and other grave criminal charges have been framed against several senior journalists including Siddharth Vardarajan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande,  Zafar Agha, Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, and Vinod K. Jose in three BJP-ruled states.

Cases have been initiated against them for instigating violence and communal ill-feeling etc. through their social media updates while covering the Delhi violence during the tractor rally of farmers against pro-corporate farm laws on 26th January, 2021.

Meanwhile, a young freelance reporter Mandeep Punia has been  arrested and sent to jail allegedly for "misbehaving with policemen". He was reporting for Junputh and Caravan since the beginning of the farmers movement, mostly from the Singhu border. His close colleagues said he had incurred the wrath of the regime after his footage exposed that it was BJP-RSS men and not "locals" who had tried to forcibly evict the farmers after the Republic Day parade. Another freelancer, Dharmendra Singh was also detained but later released, allegedly after giving an undertaking.

Several other young footsoldiers of journalism including photojournalists and independent filmmakers were also at the receiving end of police brutalities and legal harassments.They were beaten up and their equipment were damaged for shooting footage of police violence on farmers. Among them were Silesh and Ajeesh, associated with Pedestrian Pictures Bangalore and currently documenting and reporting from the Tikri border led by Randeep Maddoke as the protesting farmers' own media team. Also, independent journalist Neha Dixit has recently publicly stated that she is being physically stalked and threatened for doing her work.

In the earlier months, Sedition and terror laws like UAPA have been increasingly invoked against both big-house and independent journalists from UP to Manipur, particularly, since the second coming of the Narendra Modi government. At least 67 journalists have been detained and arrested, mostly in BJP-ruled states led by UP in 2020, an independent research estimated.

Senior journalist Paranjoy Guhathakurta is now facing an arrest warrant for having written an investigative piece on the Adani group, one of the regime's favourite crony corporates, way back in 2017.

Let’s not forget the likes of Aasif Sultan and  Siddiqui Kappan. Aasif Sultan is a journalist who was arrested in Kashmir on the 27th of August 2018 for doing his job.  Siddique Kappan is a journalist who was arrested in Uttar Pradesh on the 5th of October, 2020 for reporting on the Hathras rape-murder case. Both are in prison for doing their job.

There is a clear method in the regime's madness.

Those who stand for secular, democratic ethos of our constitution, oppose the Sangh Parivar's politics of religious nationalism, majoritarian supremacy and brahmanical social structures are considered mortal enemies of current rulers. Those who expose its extreme right wing pro-rich economic policies and violation of basic human rights of the poor multitude like the millions of migrant workers during the Covid lockdown are to be gagged, jailed or lynched as 'anti-nationals'.

The 24x7 television and social media hate and disinformation factories, known as "Godi media" (puppet media) have been spitting venom against such perceived assorted 'anti-nationals'--minorities, farmers, workers, Dalit and human rights activists, students and civil society critics. But they never faced any punitive action for instigating violence. The government is keeping mum on the claims of Arnab Goswami, the propaganda chief of the regime's shrill hate campaign, about his prior knowledge of national security matters and major legislative and policy moves, thanks to his easy access to the prime minister, home minister and chief justice's office.

Noose around the neck of digital media and 'mobile journalism'

Consequently, the land of "world's largest democracy" has been steadily slipping downwards in the ranks of the nation-states. The global press freedom index, prepared by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers puts India at the 138th position in 2017 and at the 142th in 2020 among 180 countries. The Centre is not only happy with turning the majority of mainstream media watchdogs into its lapdogs.

It is trying hard to tighten the legal noose around the necks of small but independent online media initiatives and impose its own stringent surveillance and gag mechanism in league with US social media behemoths. The Sangh Parivar which has used proliferation of internet-connected smartphones for murderous mobilisations of lynch mobs and communal gangs are now hounding young 'mobile journalists' who are courting dangers at the grounds to report the multi-layered truth.

We have no qualms in counting the opposition-ruled states including West Bengal; the incumbent ruling party and its predecessors, among the violators of media and journalistic freedom and overall freedom of expression. Nevertheless, as India under Modi's watch is fast heading towards a fascist dictatorship a la Hitler and Mussolini, we call upon the entire media fraternity and our fellow-travellers in larger civil society to protest and close ranks in resistance.

Avail every opportunity for dialogue and solidarity between mainstream and independent journos.

We are proud of Mandeep who called for a free press from a police van. His young colleagues have already hit the street in solidarity and demanded his immediate release. In the meantime, seniors at Press Club India ,Editors Guild , Women corps and others held a protest meeting. Speakers decried the sedition charges against journalists as an unprecedented move by the BJP government and a more sinister  design compared to Indira Gandhi's Emergency era. Journalists, both in the mainstream and alternative media, are also coming out in protest.

Will not our Kolkata colleagues rise to the occasion?
চার নম্বর প্ল্যাটফর্ম
People's Media
Radio Quarantine Kolkata
People's Film Collective
Cinema of Resistance
আমরা মনভাসি
Dalit Camera
People's News
আসানসোল শিল্পাঞ্চলের উদ্যোগ

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Feb 2, 2021

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