Silencing media

The murder in Madhya Pradesh of senior journalist Chandrika Rai and his family is reason for concern. It appears to be an attempt at silencing him.

Rai had written extensively on the dirty dealings of the illegal coal mafia in the region and it is believed that the latter killed the journalist and his family not just to prevent him from revealing the truth but also to terrorise and silence other journalists writing about them. Another theory is that the killing was related to the recent abduction of a child. Rai had apparently disagreed with the version put out by the police, suggesting a police hand in the murder. What makes Rai’s killing all the more worrying is that it is not a one-off assault on those who are speaking up against crime and corruption in this country.

Eight months ago, another journalist Jyotirmoy Dey was gunned down in broad daylight. While arrests have been made in that murder, it is hard to dispel the feeling that the probe hides more than it reveals and that a concerted attempt is being made to obscure the role of the police and the mafia in Dey’s killing by claiming that it was the result of professional rivalry. Like Rai, Dey too knew too much and was writing about the oil mafia and their links to police and politicians.

He ended up paying with his life. This has been the fate of several RTI activists, such as Shehla Masood in Bhopal, who was killed for wanting to lay bare various scams. At least one RTI activist has been murdered each month last year. In most of these cases the killers roam free largely because they and the mafias on whose behalf they acted have the protection of police and politicians.

The Indian press and RTI activists have played an important role in uncovering corruption, crime and mafia-police links. Freedom of expression is a principle that is central to our democracy. Stern action needs to be taken against those undermining this freedom. Rai’s killing is a sign of the extent to which they are willing to go – even killing children – to terrorise the media into silence. While the media must not allow itself to be brow beaten, the government must enable it to speak up. A fair probe, punishment not just to the killer but also the masterminds and steps to break the police-criminal nexus is essential.

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