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Article 19 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression as long as it is not used to oppose India’s “sovereignty and integrity.” On the whole, journalists are free and know how to defend their rights on the streets or in the courts.
Nonetheless, the gulf between different parts of India is growing. In New Delhi journalists enjoy freedom and safety but in the central state of Chhattisgarh, for example, where the rule of law has broken down, they are increasingly exposed to obstacles and dangers including impunity, police abuses and the powerful local officials. In the frequent armed clashes between Naxalite (Maoist) guerrillas and the security forces, journalists in Chhattisgarh are often branded as “traitors” by the guerrillas and as Maoist supporters by the police.
The northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is mired in a border dispute with Pakistan, is a taboo subject for the authorities. In May 2011, for example, they seized 30,000 copies of The Economist because it included a map of the region that was deemed to undermine India’s territorial claims. Police violence is the biggest problem for the state’s media. The security forces, which constantly clash with separatists and street demonstrators, often crack down violently on the media, accusing them of throwing oil on the flames. The security forces, especially the Central Reserve Police Force, frequently abuse the powers they are granted by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act, but their violence is rarely punished.
Two news photographers, one of them a foreigner, were arrested and beaten by the police while covering clashes between police and demonstrators on 19 August 2011 in the Nowhatta district of Srinagar, the state capital. Both had to be hospitalized. Two days before that, a religious programme on privately-owned 92.7 Big FM was suspended without prior warning and its host, Mohammad Umar Farooq, a religious leader and chairman of one of the Hurriyat Conference factions, was placed under a broadcasting ban.
Regular enforcement of a curfew in several cities including Srinagar has a drastic effect on the free flow of information and journalists’ ability to work. Newspapers are sometimes unable to print for weeks at a stretch, as was the case with the dailies Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir in September 2010.
The murders of Umesh Rashput and Jyotirmoy Dey in 2011 highlighted the threat to investigative reporters from criminal groups. Rashput, a reporter for Nai Duniya, was gunned down in Chhattisgarh by two masked men on a motorcycle on 23 January. Jyotirmoy Dey, an investigative journalist with Mid Day who specialized in organized crime, was shot dead in Mumbai on 11 June. The niece of a journalist in Bulandshahr (in the northeastern state of Uttar Pradesh) who edits the monthly Jungsatta was kidnapped in June 2011 and raped by gang members, who mistook her for his daughter. Attacks like these fuel a climate of fear and tend to encourage self-censorship.
The most influential netizens are also exposed to physical violence. Blogger and Right to Information activist Shehla Masood was shot dead outside her home in the central city of Bhopal on 16 August 2011 as she was about to attend a demonstration in support of Anna Hazare, a civil society leader and anti-corruption campaigner who had been arrested earlier that day.
Internet use is expanding rapidly. India’s 100 million Internet users are expected to increase to around 300 million by 2014. Wireless Internet, especially mobile phone Internet, is also developing quickly as the price of smartphones fall. But online free expression is threatened by new “IT Rules” that the authorities announced in May 2011. Under one of the requirements, Internet companies would face prosecution if they failed to withdraw offensive content within 36 hours of being notified by the authorities.
According to the Google Transparency Report website, which logs the content removal requests that Google receives from governments, Google received 67 requests from the Indian government for the removal of a total of 282 content items (such as videos critical of politicians) from YouTube and blogs from July to December 2010. Google said it complied with 22 per cent of the requests.
Finally, some foreign reporters are systematically denied press visas as if they had been blacklisted. Two Swedish journalists were refused visas after covering social problems in India. The US journalist David Barsamian, founder and director of Alternative Radio, had planned to interview a political activist in India in September 20011 was denied entry on arrival. He had done a report on Kashmir during a previous visit.
Updated in November 2011
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