A senior journalist turned activist from Bengaluru in Karnataka, Gauri Lankesh, Editor of Kannada language tabloid Lankesh Patrike was shot dead just in front of her residential door step as unidentified assailants pumped 7 bullets into her, leaving her laying in a pool of blood. This has raised nationwide condemnation as an attack on democracy and an attempt at silencing the voice of dissent.
Gauri’s weekly is pro-Dalit, pro-farmer and pro-women. She was one of the few women editors in the Kannada press who was unabashedly critical of government policies. Her courage and resolve had made her who she is, a journalist-activist.
Her last write up was on the Gorakhpur tragedy, where children died due to oxygen shortage in Uttar Pradesh. Gauri’s writings in the past had criticised the right-wing Hindutva politics. In 2003, she opposed the Sangh Parivar’s alleged attempts to Hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah, located at Baba Budan giri which is said to be the turning point of her career by rubbing off the wrong people. After this she had a number of defamation cases filed against her.
Gauri is said to have picked up the flair of fearless writing from her poet-journalist father P. Lankesh. In the journalist fraternity, she has been considered the present day champion of the freedom of the press. Eliminating her is an attempt to curb the fundamental rights of the media’s freedom of expression as expressed across the nation through the protest demonstration the whole day long which was stopped for a while only to complete the last rites through a state funeral.
Besides the media practitioners, lawyers, social activists, women organizations have formed the congregation to protest against the attempt to silence the media, and affirmed that the motive cannot be curbed.
The media practitioners across the nation have also expressed the constant threats to them, as they try to uphold the freedom of the press. The practitioners have also expressed surprise as how the government and the government machineries, politicians and political parties, social organizations and cooperate houses cannot accept criticism or their omissions being pointed out. Most of the legal practitioners are not well versed with Media Law, hence the high number of litigation against the media.
It is the same in the case of the legal practitioners in Meghalaya and the Courts are to be sensitized on how to admit the litigation relating to the media. The Courts here have till date bypass the Press Council of India (PCI), a statutory body empowered by the Constitution of India.
Here, a few lawyers are always happy to file a defamation suit against media houses on behalf of the government machinery, whereas in the case of any grievances, the clarification needs to be sought from the respective media house on written complaint, on receipt of the same, and the media house failed to highlight the aggrieved person version within 15 days, PCI needs to be approached, and not the Court.
The media houses, both electronic and print, here in Meghalaya are also rendering yeoman services in highlighting the issues of the region and informing the general masses about the government schemes and policies. Most of the media houses in the region are dependent purely on government advertisements, but in almost all the cases, the advertisement cost is being allotted to the Non – Plan sector, hence the advertisement policy is never respected. Worst so, in Meghalaya there is a total absence of such a policy.
It may be reminded that the Indian Constitution confers no special rights or privileges to the Press as does the American First Amendment. However, Article 19(i)(a) does assure freedom of expression for every citizen and the same is extended to the Press. Not to forget Article 21- which says ‘No person shall be deprived of his or her life or personal liberty, except according to the procedure established by law is to be read together.’
The 71 year old nation is now standing face to face with a spectrum of challenges, including the conflicts based on language, caste, religion and political ideologies. In modern terms, it’s called intolerance. The media is caught in similar ambiguity. Worst so, many have attempted to crusade or extend their services for the propaganda of groups, parties or even individuals in the course of time, unaware that the media house has turned into a mouthpiece for an individual, while consoling itself that it is still serving public interest.
45 year old Meghalaya is in similar confusion. Although newspapers existed in Meghalaya well before the attainment of statehood (January 21, 1972), but the true purpose was highlighted only during the hill state movement.
Many newspapers and journals were launched by political parties during the era that were effectively used to voice the public demand for a separate state, resulting in Meghalaya attaining statehood without shedding a single drop of blood.
However, the press in Meghalaya is yet to have its Advertisement Policy. Besides the meager one time assistance to individual media practitioners during times of predicament, there is total absence of welfare schemes for the media persons. The district administration has always remained aloof towards any media related issue and affair, except for filing defamation cases against media houses for any of the news reports, in some cases including advertisements which is not to the taste of the department or individual public authority, thinking they are unquestionable especially by media. Under such uncertainties the practice of journalism here is as unpredictable as the weather, sometime blowing hot and at times cold.
Media houses in the North East are facing one common threat, the threat of being phased out due to financial crunch.
National Press Day for Meghalaya remembered the sacrifice of Kenny Warjri of Peitngor Cable News (PCN) who lost his life on October 11, 2015 in the line of duty at Paikan in the Goalpara district of Assam. Warjri succumbed to his injuries after the vehicle that they were travelling in hit a tree, about a kilometer into the Paikan-Tura road on NH51. His contribution towards journalism in Meghalaya will surely set a footprint for the profession to thrive under such constrains.
Like the professionalism and dedication of the Media houses across the countries, Meghalaya too has such heroes who also deserve similar solidarity of the masses as was seen recently in Paris and let the flag of journalism in Meghalaya too gain acceptance as the French flag, touching every heart, making it more meaningful as per the theme of 2015- Let Journalism Thrive: Television and Media Freedom, so that the courage and spirit of Gauri will live on.