Free speech: Journalists were among most vulnerable, with deaths, attacks, threats, sedition and defamation cases against them

Screen shot 2016-01-12 at 7.59.07 AMEach year, the well-known media watch site, “The Hoot”, produces a report on the state of media freedom and free speech based on data it collects from published sources all year round. The last year’s report, “Free Speech in India, 2015”, is bigger than usual because so much happened. Excerpts:

The year 2015 was a hugely eventful year for free speech in India. There were legal, political and technological developments that set the tone for these issues to be debated all year round. And journalists were at their most vulnerable, with deaths, attacks, threats, sedition and defamation cases against them at an all- time high.

The top ranks go to these four:

        Chief minister J. Jayalalithaa and the Tamil Nadu government

        The Government and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

        The Central Board of Film Certification

        The Chhattisgarh state government

CM Jayalalithaa and the Tamil Nadu Government

When the Chennai floods brought journalists from other parts of the country to Tamil Nadu, they noticed that questions about fixing blame were neither asked by the press in Tamil Nadu, nor answered by officials at press conferences. It was an indicator of the defamation capital that this city has become.

In 2015 the chief minister, her ministers, and her government filed a large number of criminal defamation cases against a range of magazines and individuals, prompting the Supreme Court to take note by the year end. The apex court said that the bulk of defamation cases against political leaders has been filed in Tamil Nadu, and slammed the state government for granting sanction for prosecution in these cases.

In May the Supreme Court gave omnibus relief to the magazine Nakkeeranin connection with a set of 15 criminal defamation proceedings initiated against it by the chief minister, ministers and senior IAS officers in Tamil Nadu. These 15 complaints cited all its 20 reporters as respondents.

In November, criticism of government in action led the City Public Prosecutor M.L. Jegan to file a criminal defamation case against the weekly magazine Ananda Vikatan for ‘maligning’ the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister because an article had asked what Jayalalithaa had done so far.

In this report’s total count of 48 defamation cases in 2015, the Tamil Nadu government accounts for 11 of them and for two of the 14 sedition cases filed in the country. In December 2015 the Telegraph reported that the Jayalalithaa government has filed a total of 190 defamation cases during it tenure.

The Government of India and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting

The I& B ministry under the Bharatiya Janata Party government has become an image manager for its leaders and a censor rather than a provider of information. Its brief now is to safeguard the PM’s image. A few days ago, the Hindu reported that the Ministry will also monitor footage showing the I&B Minister and the Minister for I&B State, in what is an unprecedented move.

In 2015 Sathiyam TV, a Chennai-based Tamil language news and current affairs channel, received a show cause notice alleging that two of their broadcasts had portrayed Narendra Modi in a poor light. In the course of the year, the government issued an advisory to news channels not to telecast the Nirbhaya documentary and served a legal notice to the BBC for airing the Nirbhaya film ‘India’s Daughter’. It also focused its energies on preventing information leaks to the media and defended its curbs on journalists.

Screen shot 2016-01-12 at 8.32.44 AMIn the course of the year, three channels were issued show cause notices on why they should not face action for Yakub Memon’s execution coverage. Among other actions, the I&B Ministry banned a documentary on beef and issued a notice to a Gujarat channel for ‘sullying’ the image of the prime minister.

Following the extended resistance of the students of the Film and Television Institute of India to the appointment of a director at the International Film Festival of India later in the year, the Ministry decided to drop the student film section at the festival.

The Central Board of Film Certification

This government body acquired a new head early in the year, Pahlaj Nihalani, who remained in the news all year round. The body he headed censored some 21 films in the course of the year, one of which came in for 218 cuts. The CBFC made the most news at the end of the year for shortening the duration of a James Bond kiss. Consequently, on the first day of 2016 the government announced a 6-member panel to review the functioning of the CBFC.

The Chhattisgarh Government

It jailed two journalists and presided over the state harassment of journalists in the Bastar region, which led them to hold a protest in Jagdalpur at the end of the year.

Download the full report by clicking HERE

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