“Don’t Shoot The Messenger For Revealing Uncomfortable Truths.”- Julian Assange

With the rapid growth of media, Information has become quintessential to function in the society.  Media acts as the linkage between the citizens and the events taking place across the globe. “The Journalists” who are the face of media and work relentlessly are often underappreciated and criticized for  divulging the harsh truths of the society.

The work of a journalist is like a double edged sword. They are used as the scapegoats to express the mortifying opinions, hence their Money, fame often gets overshadowed by the perils involved thereof. As harassment of all kinds has become the norm of the industry, journalists are often hurled with abuses online. The digital media has paved the way to online accusations as opposed to the pre internet times where the harassment could only be done in person.

Contrary to Article 19 of the constitution which guarantees the right of freedom of speech and expression, the journalists are welcomed with harsh words when they express their opinions on diverse topics. The harassment of the reporters knows no bound and sprouts with even comments on the personal identity of the individuals.

The Online Harassment or trolling in India predominantly is undertaken in an extremely neat and concentrated manner. Most of these efforts are well coordinated and directed, paid for similar to well-run advertisement agency. The horrifying aspect of anonymity online is that there are no boundaries set to the filth that is spewed out by these individuals. With very lax and inefficient policing it becomes the perfect crime to execute from the comfort of a screen where the helpless victims are left fending for themselves in the process.

VULNERABILITY OF JOURNALIST

Journalists are some of the most affected group of professionals in the world when it comes to online harassment.Veteran Journalist Ms. Rana Ayyub explains that whenever a journalist writes or says something in the public space that is critical of the ruling establishment they are subject to a barrage of online hate from all sections of society who are ardent followers of the regime’s ideology. She recalls a particular story where her reporting got a political leader, who was arrested in 2010, later became a prominent politician figure in central government. After this she exclaims her life “has been a living hell”. She says she has been the target of a concentrated online hate campaign. Every possible trick in the book including morphing her face into inappropriate videos and images and  circulating fake photoshopped tweets accusing her of inflammatory and seditious statements apart from the usual of death, rape and other kinds of threats. Another veteran of the Industry Mr Sardesai explains his streak of ruthless trolling from the perspective of a Male Journalist. He remarks that since he has always been critical of the political leaders and ever since the release of his book “The Truth Hurts: Gujarat and the Role of the Media” he’s been a favourite target of the right wing troll army of the country. And now considers this as a part and parcel of his job. Ms. Sagarika Ghose who is a senior journalist and the chief consulting editor of Times of India recalled a frightening incident in her career in an interview where she filed an F.I.R right after a twitter handle whichcelebrated the sensational murder of another veteran Journalist Gouri Lankesh who got death threats, was murdered at her home by assailants.Where the person is an avid follower of a political party called for more such brutal attacks on other journalist and activists who were critical of the establishment.

RECOGNITION OF  HARASSMENT

Media being the fourth pillar of democracy and right to information being the essence of the constitution spring the need for journalism in India. Journalist being executors of freedom of speech makes them vulnerable to threats and harassment. Apart from physical threats, introduction to social media platforms has become hub of fake news, confusion and cyber bullying. The various forms of online harassment can be characterized as “Cyberstalking”, ‘Sending intimidating, threatening or offensive messages’,Online impersonation and trolling, Online harassment campaigns (including “pile on” harassment), “Doxing”. Journalists are the part of afflicted space in our country.

Due to the ever-augmenting cases of online harassment faced by journalist many international, national organizations and NGOs have recognized the issue. UNESCO has acknowledged the plight of journalist in its “Handbook for Journalism Education and Training” that in some instances the journalist are  subjected to ‘astroturfing’ and ‘trolling ‘as well as deliberate attempts to diminish their creditability. In other cases they have to face grave digital threats intended to breach their privacy or access their unpublished data. International federation of journalist (IFJ) is the organisation that speaks for journalists within the United Nations system and within the international trade union movement.NGOs such as International Press Institute (IPI), reporters without borders (RSF), PEN International, and Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) and Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) are raising awareness for the cause of protecting journalist. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has sponsored research that demonstrates the international impact of online abuse of female journalists who are disproportionately targeted for ‘hate trolling’.

AVAILABLE PROVISIONS AND OBLIGATIONS

World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to remind the world the importance of protecting the fundamental human right of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With violence against media professionals constituting one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression, Article 19(1) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly states that every individual has right to hold opinions and freedom of expression. The term other ‘media of choice’ whether oral or written is inclusive of the present scenario of social media under ICCPR and thus puts an obligation on the state to ensure no interference in such exclusive right. Such responsibility mayalso be incurred by a State party under some circumstances in respect of acts of semi-State entities. The obligation also requires State’s parties to ensure that persons are protected from any acts by private persons or entities that would impair the enjoyment of the freedoms of opinion and expression to the extent that these Covenant rights are amenable to application between private persons or entities. Hence state made legislature has to certain that the free opinions and speech are safeguarded from online abuse. In India under the Press Council of India, norms of journalistic conduct provides with complaint procedure for oppression of press freedom. Such complaint can be made by any newspaper, journalist or individual but are subject to opinion of the council to be considered as oppression. The existing procedure disregards the effect of online abuses on journalist.

LIMITATION OF PCI

Where international organisations are rapidly indulged in formulating a safe environment for the journalist online, PCI falls short on specific laws directed towards the protection of journalist both online and offline. The PCI taken into account the compliant made by the journalists only after scrutinising it with their present guidelines. According to a report on the safety of journalists from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in July 2013: ‘As the number of online journalists has increased, so have attacks against them, such as illegal hacking of their accounts,  monitoring  of  their  online  activities,  arbitrary  arrest  and  detention,  and  the  blocking of websites that contain information critical of authorities. Initiatives such as The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. These initiatives include recommendations made by UNESCO such as mapping activities for digital security as well as digital training and digital security guides. Ergo, India needs to remodel framework ensuring safety of journalists online as per the international standards.

EVALUATING DIFFERENT COUNTRIES

The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fueled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.

According to the World Press Index out of 180 countries, Norway offers the safest domain for the journalist with India on the 140th position. In India where critics of Hindu nationalism are branded as “anti-Indian” in online harassment campaigns, six journalists were murdered in 2018.

Norway a secure country shelters its journalists from threats creating a safe haven to exercise their right to freedom of speech and be the harbingers of truth. It has built such policies that the audience does not lose trust in the legitimacy of the journalist’s caliber.  The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs encourage Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian PEN, Icorn, International Media Support, Article 19 and UNESCO.

Countries like France have already made amendments to penalize and/or remedy harassment that is of a sexual and/or sexist nature, the amended laws explicitly apply to online communication to capture the phenomenon of online harassment. The repeated malicious electronic threats made by individuals is a punishable offence up to one year in jail and a fine of €15,000 (approximately US$16,600) as it hampers the victims peace of mind. The Law of 29 July 1881 on Freedom of the Press, which is still in force, prohibits defamation and insults, both written and verbal.  It defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact which harms the honor or consideration of the person or group to which the fact is imputed.

CONCLUSION : THE  WAY AHEAD

By celebrating “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists” on 2nd November, the UN General Assembly encourages the public to stand united for journalists, for truth and for justice. International organizations are adopting satisfactory measures to monitor the persecution experienced by journalist. They have mandated concrete measures such as mapping and digital security to alleviate the threat. In India the issue has fallen prey to the neglect of the concerned authorities salvaged only by vague readdress system built by the PCI. Hence, a shielded environment should be constructed to protect the journalists from the hurls of abuses. There should be proper regulations to combat the online abuse, according to the art 19 (2) of ICCPR where the rights or restriction should be ‘provided by law’. Adequate human personnel should be employed to eradicate cyber bullying of journalist and to effectuate the cyber laws in India. The specific laws should not overshadow the paramountcy of the safety of journalists who are ridiculed by the individuals. Hence, both mental harm and physical harm should be taken into consideration by the police authorities as harassment is not a baggage to be carried by the journalists.

About the authors

(LEFT IMG)Aditya Nair is presently pursuing BA LLB(3rd year) from Amity Law School Delhi (GGSIPU). He is a quiet observant soul whose aspirations often fail to match up with his current reality. He believes he is a realist by nature and for the most part, his efforts are to find happiness in present circumstances and if possible make a small difference in other people’s lives through his efforts and give meaning to his privileged middle-class existence.

(MIDDLE IMG)Aparna Gupta is presently pursuing BA LLB(3rd year) from Amity Law School Delhi (GGSIPU). She has always been a consistent writer and not flash in the pan. She has an inclination towards subjects of law specifically pertaining to arbitration and law of crimes. Her aim is to develop the requisite skills for being an exemplary lawyer.

(RIGHT IMG)Aditi Palit presently pursuing BA LLB(3rd year) from Amity Law School Delhi (GGSIPU). Aditi is an avid reader, she’s also interested in legal research and keeps on writing on different legal topics. She’s adamant to make a career in the corporate world.

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