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Time to respect the fourth estate

It started as a conspiracy born out of the collective personal vendetta of some very angry cops. But Akela’s arrest snowballed into a textbook case of the state’s abuse of power. Corrupt RPF officers, faced with the prospect of financial ruin due to his stories, engineered the arrest to demoralise him, and make an example out of him.

The best-kept secret is that journalists everywhere are far more vulnerable than ordinary people realise. There are several examples of unfortunate journalists in other states who still have malicious cases still pending against them a direct fallout of their professional activities. Only yesterday, the Karnataka government decided to drop charges against journalist Naveen Soorinje, who had covered a right-wing party’s attack on pubgoers. His footage of the assault led to the arrest of dozens of assailants.

In Akela’s case, a series of exposes on corruption in the RPF had rubbed far too many people the wrong way. He is thankful to the global community of journalists that backed him up. But Akela had the power of the press behind him. What happens to the ordinary citizen, whose employer may not be so sympathetic if a criminal case is registered against him?

Every day, our High Court hears hundreds of criminal writ petitions that allege malfeasance on part of police, all filed by citizens that ought never to have suffered from police excesses. Many present instances of colourable exercise of power where under the guise of doing a thing they are lawfully meant to do, police abuse discretion to settle scores or line their own pockets. India has a long way to go before it approaches the high regard the fourth estate is held in countries we love to emulate. For now, all we can be thankful for is that our democratic values have mitigated the kind of clampdowns common on the other side of our borders. 

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