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Why free press matters in India

Today is, thanks to the United Nations General Assembly, World Press Freedom Day. It was declared as such because awareness of the importance of freedom of the press was thought necessary. The times we live in demanded that awareness. Also, governments needed to be reminded of their duty to uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For us in the media, the idea of freedom of expression is sacrosanct. It is also, increasingly, under threat. In 1981, an independent non-profit organisation called Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was formed in response to harassment from authoritarian governments. According to data published on its website, the number of journalists killed since 1992 is 911. The figure for India currently stands at 49. This includes 28 journalists whose deaths had confirmed motives, three media workers, and 18 with no confirmed motives. Listed among the latter group is the name of our colleague J Dey.

Of the beats covered by these, our fallen comrades, 29 per cent were working on business, 25 per cent on corruption and 11 percent on crime. In 2010, another of our colleagues, Tarakant Dwivedi alias Akela, reported on how a leaking roof was damaging expensive weapons procured after the 26/11 terror attacks. A year later, he was arrested under the draconian Official Secrets Act by the Government Railway Police in an act that smacked of vindictiveness.

According to a 2011 prison census published by the CPJ, 179 journalists were jailed worldwide. 17 were killed in 2012. Of the deadliest countries to be a journalist in 2012, Syria, Somalia and Nigeria were placed first to third. India was the fourth most dangerous place.

A free press is often all that stands between democracy and anarchy. We should try and remember that.

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