Recent attacks on two Tripura journalists and a legal notice to a local daily following the controversial comment by Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb on the state’s media have been strongly condemned by scribes’ bodies.
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) on Wednesday expressed “deep shock” at the attacks on journalists and the legal notice after “open threats to the media” by Deb.
Objecting to the media coverage of the Covid 19 pandemic in Tripura, the chief minister had said, “Some newspapers are trying to confuse people, getting all over-excited. History will not forgive them, I shall not forgive them either. People of Tripura wouldn’t forgive them. I do whatever I say, history is testimony to that.”
Within 24 hours of this comment, two journalists were assaulted in the BJP-ruled state. Parashar alias Pinku Biswas, a journalist with the Bengali daily Syandan Patrika, was severely beaten up at his house in Ambassa on Saturday night and was admitted to a hospital. He had just been discharged from a treatment facility after recovering from Covid-19 and had made a Facebook video critiquing the chief minister’s controversial comments, following which he was attacked.
The police have received a complaint on the Ambassa incident and are looking for the accused, the Indian Express reported.
Another journalist was attacked on Saturday. Ashok Dasgupta, a television reporter from Belonia of South Tripura, was allegedly roughed up by some locals after he tried to cover drinking water shortage at Matai village.
“In both cases local journalists blame BJP workers for the attacks,” said the DUJ statement.
After these two incidents, on Monday, the newspaper Dainik Sambad received a legal notice from a local district magistrate. The notice claimed that a news item carried by the daily and written by Paramita Livingstone is “totally baseless, concocted and prima-facie published with an objective not only to create panic among the citizens but also to denigrate the fighting spirit of the frontline workers involved in fighting COVID-19 pandemic in Tripura”.
The DUJ statement said the article, written by Dainik Sambad’s editor Paramita Livingstone, critiqued the government’s measures to contain the pandemic, the poor state of three Covid treatment centres, and shortage of PPEs, among other things. Livingstone has denied the charges levelled in the legal notice and the matter has been taken up by the High Court.
The Delhi Union of Journalists said, “We demand compensation for the injured journalist and withdrawal of the legal notice against Dainik Sambad.”
Different journalist bodies came together on Sunday in Agartala under the umbrella of Tripura Assembly of Journalists and said they “condemn these anti-democratic and unconstitutional comments from the Chief Minister.” They gave the CM three days to withdraw his controversial comments. The demands of the Tripura Assembly of Journalists have also been supported by DUJ.
“We condemn the growing number of attacks on media persons who have been reporting the pandemic and its fallout, braving the risk of contracting the disease. We demand risk insurance cover and compensation for all affected journalists and their families,” DUJ said in its statement.
Currently, Tripura has 20,172 Covid-19 cases and over 217 deaths, the highest in the North East.
The state of press freedom in India has increasingly come under scrutiny with the country slipping to 142nd position on global press freedom index of 180 nations.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that as many as 51 journalists were killed in India between 1992 and 2020.
A report named ‘Getting Away with Murder’ by journalists Geeta Seshu and Urvashi Sarkar estimated that at least 198 serious attacks on reporters were recorded between 2014 to 2019, and among these, 40 ended in the death of the journalists.