Ujjain: The much hyped ‘Journalist Protection Act’ in Madhya Pradesh has been trapped into limbo on the issue of defining the ‘nature of crime’ and deciding the criteria of ‘who should be protected’. The media fraternity sought such a law keeping in mind the fast-evolving technology and growing intolerance for criticism in the hi-profile classes. In its assembly election manifesto the Congress party had promised to make effective legislation for the safety of journalists. Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s government was also about to introduce the bill in recent monsoon session of the state assembly. Notwithstanding, it has now been proposed to record the suggestions of media persons working at ground zero so as to finalise the draft of the bill and to introduce it in ensuing winter session of assembly.
A Journalist Protection Bill was likely to be among 23 bills scheduled to be tabled in the state assembly during monsoon session concluded on July 22. Minister for public relations and law affairs PC Sharma had given clear indications that the bill will be introduced during the monsoon session, but it was deferred again.
Promoting the safety of journalists and combating impunity for those who attack them are central elements within UNESCO’s support for press freedom on all media platforms. On average, every five days a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public. Attacks on media professionals are often perpetrated in non-conflict situations by organised crime groups, militia, security personnel, and even local police, bringing local journalists among the most vulnerable. These attacks include murder, abductions, harassment, intimidation, illegal arrest, and arbitrary detention.
1st in Country
On April 7, 2017 both houses of the Maharashtra State Legislature passed a law to protect journalists, making it the first state in the country to pass such a law. In its statement of objectives, the Maharashtra Media persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017 explains that a special law was required to defend journalists ‘on account of the rampant instances of violence and attacks against media persons and damage or loss to the property of media institutions’. Under the Act, all attacks on media persons and media houses in the State would be treated as ‘cognisable and non-bailable’ offences and the cases would be trialed by a First Class Judicial Magistrate. Any person committing, abetting, instigating or provoking any violent act against media persons or media houses shall be punished with up to three years in jail or a fine of Rs 50, 000 or both. Conversely, the law also says that if a false complaint is filed by a media person, the complainant can also be tried and given the same punishment. A police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police shall investigate such offences
“I held discussions on this issue with the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and we will try to introduce the bill in next session of state assembly. Public relations minister has also given us instructions and accordingly I have directed the commissioner, public relations to expedite the matter. We will organise workshops in 6 divisions so as to take on record the suggestions of the media persons working at field. We would accommodate these suggestions in the proposed bill. A committee comprising senior secretaries will finalise the draft and after its approval it will be send to the cabinet which will give final approval and then the bill will be tabled in the assembly.” DR RAJESH RAJORA, PRINCIPAL SECRETARY, PUBLIC RELATIONS
Sources told Free Press that a committee comprising senior Babu has yet not come to a conclusion that which type of crimes should be covered under the act so as to give protection to the journalists. Should verbal duel between journalist and government servant be treated as a crime? Or should the effect of the Act remains confined to physical conflicts only?
One more issue which is yet not sorted out is related to persons (read liquor mafia, land sharks, mining mafia, goons, politicians, etc,) who have somehow managed accreditation (from tehsil and up to state level and even as freelancers). Several complaints against such pseudo-journalists have already been reached before the government, sources added.
Measures to check misuse
According to sources, government does not want the proposed act should have lacunas. “A bill which has wide acceptability is considered to be the best bill and instead of imposing it on the concerned persons or fraternity, they should be taken into confidence,” they pleaded. The sources also indicated that certain measurers will be initiated so as to check misuse of the Act. Looking to the acceptability factor, the top Babus have now planned to constitute 6 divisional level committees comprising 15 senior journalists each to give a concrete shape to the draft of the proposed bill. These committees will soon tour divisional headquarters and will take on record the suggestions of field reporters. “Journalists having accreditation generally face no major problem. But those working at lower levels of hierarchy and lack any accreditation, usually face problems. These journos do not have cordial relationship with government employees and awkward situation occurs mostly with them,” sources observed.