Hyderabad: The role of a senior cop in the murder of senior journalist J Dey in Mumbai is now being investigated with the Mumbai police stating that it would question assistant commissioner of police Anil Mahabole. The cop’s name has figured in the investigation after the police learnt that Dey had spoken to his friends about threats from the officer. Back home in Andhra Pradesh, scribes say they are all too familiar with such “threats” from the police.
Scribes cite the recent Telangana agitation on Osmania University campus when journalist vehicles, more so two-wheelers, were allegedly torched by an agitated police, unhappy with the pro-Telangana media coverage. “A television reporter wearing his identity card and holding his channel microphone was chased by the police and beaten with lathis. His bike was also set ablaze. The reporter was finally rescued by other mediapersons,” recollects a scribe who spent several days on OU campus covering the agitation. He adds that cameras were routinely damaged and camerapersons attacked. “The police indulged in all this mainly in the night,” the journalist says.
But significantly, it is the Naxal reason or the Naxal identity that has come in handy for the police in the past to `tackle’ probing reporters. Lalita Iyer, member of Network of Women in Media, Hyderabad chapter, says that a journalistic identity in the state is no protection.
About a decade ago, it was in the bustling Uppal area of Hyderabad when a journalist working with Udayam newspaper, Ghulam Rasool, was allegedly killed in a fake encounter. Journalists recollect how the police said Rasool was a Naxalite and was taking shelter in the garb of a journalist. “It was an easy explanation by the police but the charge was never proved,” says K V Ramana, assistant editor, DNA. While there were two other cases of journalists being killed in the nineties, one of Mallepula Narendra, an Eenadu correspondent from Nizamabad district, who was killed when he was covering an encounter between Naxals and the police, and another of Chada Sridhar Reddy, Udayam reporter from Nalgonda district, there have been other cases of the police “framing” scribes. Much like Rasool, scribes have been targeted by the police for being emissaries of Naxals or being Naxals themselves.
In a 2005 case, a Warangal scribe Kondal Rao was put behind bars for over a year as the then district SP had prepared a dossier on his `Maoist’ links as proof of his involvement. K Srinivas, editor, Andhra Jyothi says, “There are many instances of TADA cases against journalists. One of them, who is now a TRS MLA was the first scribe to be booked under TADA when he worked with Udayam newspaper.” Srinivas says that many reporters have been framed in Naxal cases particularly in north Telangana districts. “They were harassed, intimidated, tortured,” he says.
But what has changed over the years are the people behind the threats. From police, threats now come from politicians and even the land, sand or even the mining mafia. Journalists, particularly those reporting from coastal districts, say that threatening calls from these mafias have become almost routine in the recent past.
And then there are threats from groups and individuals. Serious damage was inflicted on the Andhra Jyothi office injuring reporters when Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) activists hurled stones and petrol bombs at the newspaper in 2008. Last year, it was the PRP workers who attacked the Telugu news channel ABN after it telecast a story on the party’s budget woes. Then there is the case of a TV9 reporter in Anantapur, who was threatened and manhandled by a politician, when the journalist asked him uncomfortable questions regarding the murder of a TDP leader.
The Andhra Pradesh state government, incidentally, set up a coordination committee to tackle attacks on journalists in 2003-04 but it has remained inactive. TOI