Friday, 17 June 2011

Too Special By Far

 Journalists in Mumbai have stepped up pressure for a law to make attacks on them non-bailable and cognisable. This has come in the wake of the tragic killing of investigative journalist J Dey last week. Apparently this demand is a long-standing one. First the Maharashtra government had a meeting with journalists on this. Now the Union law and justice minister Veerappa Moily is promising a Central law on the subject.
This is absolutely uncalled for.
Dey's killing is extremely sad and brings home to a lot of us the perils we face while going about our jobs. Ours can be a hazardous profession and this article highlights this. In some north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, journalists are routinely threatened by militant groups. I was in Ayodhya in 1992 during the Babri Masjid demolition and journalists were attacked.
But is a special law to protect journalists the answer? Definitely not.
Ours is not an ordinary profession. Journalists relay information to people and in doing so are privy to a lot of information that is not in the public domain. Their reports highlight problems, expose corruption and other misdeeds and help shape public opinion, among other things. That gives them power and prestige but also makes them vulnerable.
There are other professions whose practitioners also face hazards. Doctors, for example, do get attacked by relatives of patients whom they couldn't save. They also go into remote areas where their lives are endangered. So are engineers engaged in the construction of large projects like dams and power plants who could be attacked by people opposed to the project. Remember the case of Satyendra Dubey, the National Highways Authority of India engineer who was killed for fighting against corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway project? Or Manjunath, the Indian Oil sales manager, and Yashwant Sonawane, the IAS officer from Maharashtra, both of whom were killed by the oil mafia when they were checking adulteration of fuel?
Why shouldn't all these professions also get special laws against attacks on them?
And, like the Indian Express pointed out today, if special groups are to get special laws to protect them, does this mean that it is okay for all the others to have to make do with less stringent laws? The state is supposed to protect everyone from attacks on their person.
Journalists have got too accustomed to special privileges - government accreditation to allow them easy access to government offices and Press stickers for their vehicles to enable them to go to places in the course of their duty where others are not allowed (e.g. riot-hit areas, areas under curfew), to name just two.
Asking now for a special law to protect them is carrying things a bit too far.
The proposal needs to be nipped in the bud.