A growing outrage is palpable from the civil society against the abuse of media's credibility to arrest Chhatradhar Mahto, the leader of Lalgarh movement in West Bengal, India.
The West Bengal police and authorities disguised as a fake media representative and with the assistance of a local media personnel, managed to reach Chhatradhar Mahto. Mahto was arrested then.
Dr Vishnu Rajgadia, Secretary of Jharkhand RTI Forum and a noted social activist, took the initiative with support from National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) leaders to begin a signature petition campaign demanding the Prime Minister of India to intervene and stop this trend which is jeopardising the credibility of media in India. Citizens have mobilized individuals to sign a petition against the misuse of media's credibility in West Bengal to arrest Mahto. The signature petition got hundreds of signatures from citizens in a short span of time (signature petition is online here). Prominent among those include the Magsaysay Awardee (2002) Dr Sandeep Pandey, noted Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activist and adviser to Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food Arundhati Dhuru, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan,
"The West Bangal police has misused the credibility of media to arrest a leader of Lalgarh movement, Chhatradhar Mahto on 26 September 2009. This is very objectionable as it is a misuse of the credibility and good name of the media. This is also an encroachment in the autonomy of Media" says Dr Vishnu Rajgadia.
"This will create various problems for the journalists including the threat of their life during reporting in any so-called disturbed area. Therefore, we request you all to consider signing the online petition to protest the misuse by West Bengal police and to support a law to prevent such possibilities" further adds Dr Rajgadia, who began the petition on behalf of several human rights organizations.
It poses serious questions on the way police is functioning in a democratic country. Draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and other such Acts which are rule of the law in other states like Chhattisgarh, have only caused seemingly irreparable damage to social democratic fabric.
When media used disguise to conduct sting operations, the authorities took them to task and hardly any concrete action has come out of the evidence collected thereby in public interest. However authorities shamelessly have used the disguise of media and put media's credibility at risk in West Bengal.
"In a democratic country like India, each and every institution has its own duties as well as each of them have been provided certain space, authority and liberty to execute their responsibility. No institution has any right to encroach the autonomy of other institution" says the petition.
"The media persons are visiting in various remote areas including "Disturbed" fields and they also have to meet with various people including any accused person to collect news and to expose various socio-political-economic conflicts of the society. The media has a credit to keep its sources secret and to not harm somebody during their news gathering process" further states the petition.
"Therefore, the act of West Bengal Government through its CID and Police is totally unethical and unjust. It has created a big threat to the media persons especially for them who are visiting to various remote areas of so-called insurgency. Now, every body will suspect the identity of even the genuine media persons putting them at grave risk" says the petition.
The petition also demands a law in place to prevent any such abuse of media in future. Hope effective measures to safeguard media from any such misuse in future get in place as soon as possible.
[To sign the petition, click here or go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/wbmisuse/petition.html]
Bobby Ramakant, CNS
(The author is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's WNTD Awardee (2008) and writes extensively on health and development. He is a Fellow of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers' Bureau. Website: www.citizen-news.org, email: [email protected])
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