ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Killing the Messengers

Threats to journalists coupled with insidious forms of news control represent another type of censorship.

The death of Jagendra Singh, a journalist from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh (UP) who was allegedly doused with kerosene and set on fire by a group of policemen on 1 June 2015, drew attention to the fraught existence of many small-town journalists. It reminded us of other such deaths and attacks on journalists who work outside the mainstream, even if what they write often makes its way to the mainstream. Singh’s death invited discussion on the absence of any protection for journalists who work on their own, away from the headquarters of their media organisations. The issue, however, is larger than the safety of individual journalists working in small towns. It touches on different ways in which news and information are being suppressed, another form of censorship.

In the last decade, with the advent of “localisation” of news, there has been a proliferation of stringers or people given journalistic assignments by media organisations in small towns and rural areas. Many of these men, and they are mostly men although some women are also employed, have no journalistic training. What they do have is an intimate knowledge of the region from where they operate, and the ability to ferret out news and information. To tap rural and small-town markets, several large media organisations saw this as an effective strategy to increase their reach. District editions of newspapers and local news channels sprouted. This led to the recruitment of hundreds of “journalists” tasked to unearth interesting tidbits that were processed in newsrooms located in the headquarters of these media organisations. Yet, even if the local journalists did not actually write the reports, they gained recognition and respectability because the information they sent out appeared in print, or was picked up by television channels.

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