The murder of a young journalist in Bihar yesterday (August 18) has put the focus back on the hazards that media-persons face in their line of duty. Vimal Kumar Yadav (35), who worked for a Hindi daily, was shot dead by unknown assailants at his village home in Araria district. Chief minister Nitish Kumar condemned the killing and ordered a probe, but this has failed to satisfy both journalists and opposition leaders who see the incident as yet another proof of deteriorating law and order situation in the state. With the Fourth Estate under attack, they appear justifiably worried about the future of democracy in Bihar. But attacks on journalists have been taking place in other parts of the country as well.

As it is, journalists in India have been battling a plethora of problems, including financial difficulties, intimidation and job insecurity. The biggest concern, however, is the safety of scribes who face death threats frequently. Available data show that 91 journalists and media workers were killed in India between 1992 and 2023.

The country also accounts for the highest number of killing of journalists for “retribution” as their work upset people with power and influence. According to a report of the US non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), four out of the 19 journalists worldwide, who were “murdered in retaliation for their work” in 2021, were from India. Another died while on a “dangerous assignment.”

Worldwide, the year 2022 was a deadly one for the media with at least 67 journalists and media workers having to pay with their lives for their “exposures”. This was the highest casualty figure for journalists since 2018 and marked a 50 percent increase from 2021. The CPJ confirmed that in 41 of the 67 cases, there was a direct correlation between the deaths and the work of the victims. More than half of these deaths occurred in three countries – Ukraine (15), Mexico (13) and Haiti (7).

Journalists have also been killed in extremist attacks like the killing of the reporter of an Odia daily in an IED blast in Kalahandi last year. The IED, according to the police, had been planted by the Maoists who have been active in parts of this western Odisha district.

CPJ has identified Latin America as the “deadliest region to practise journalism” with 30 journalists killed in the region last year. At least 12 of these deaths were in connection with their work. The report compiled by the watchdog singled out the murder of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who worked for Al Jazeera. She was shot in the head while covering raids by Israeli forces in the West Bank area.

Independent investigations found evidence that she was killed by Israeli forces but CPJ said the Israeli government “has failed to pursue a transparent investigation or take steps to bring those responsible to justice”. This shows that certain regimes can commit crimes against the media with impunity.

But this is a dangerous trend. If independent media has to survive, individuals or organizations, however powerful, must be brought to book for their crimes against members of the media.

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