Between the devil and the deep sea.
The murder of Gauri Lankesh confirms the crisis journalism is facing today: on one hand, you submit to power and lose your credibility; and on the other, you defy and get killed.
A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says that so far ( calculation is from the 1990s), 40 journalists have been killed in India whose motivations have been ‘confirmed’; while 27 more have been killed whose motives are still unknown. “Impunity”- or going unpunished- for these murders is now a global concern.
India is becoming a dangerous place for journalists to work in, next only to the war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq, according to a 2015 Press Freedom report. What is worse, India has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.
Gauri had been a daring journalist. Like her father, the poet- journalist, P. Lankesh, she was a rationalist and never feared to criticise what was wrong in the system. Based in Bengaluru, she edited Lankesh Patrike in Kannada after the death of her father; and, on many occasions, actively wrote on the controversies of religion and society that raged in the southern states in Kannada and English media. Her latest writing was in the online magazine The Wire on the controversy of the Lingayats and the Virashaivats, where she wanted to establish critically that they were not of the same sect (followers of Shiva, as opposed to Vaishnavites) but very different in belief and lifestyle. People might differ with her views, but that is no reason why she has to die. Pluralism, which is the essence of democracy, seems to evaporate from India. Why should religion generate so much hate and violence?
Having said that, one has to redefine journalism: where journalism ends and activism begins? Gauri was both a journalist and an activist. To write and argue on an issue is one thing; and be actively involved in it (in other words, be a flag bearer) is quite a different matter. The issue of ‘advocacy’ has to be tackled carefully in the field of media ethics. As a professional, a journalist has to develop a ‘neutral pen”- however strong his/her belief might be on real life issues.
After all, as we now see, the state will not save the journalists when they are in danger. They will have to develop their own network to ensure safety, just as journalism today is fighting for ‘self regulation’ in editorial matters. Activism is not a professional journalist’s job; it is generally considered to be a PR organisation or an NGO’s function. If a journalist is also an activist (which he or she can always be, in real life) then that is being done at his/her own risk.
Discretion, indeed, is the better part of valour. Since a journalist will ultimately have to ensure his/her own safety, one has to take care of the danger lines. Death can come even by just being critical (and not being an activist) as in the case of the Bangladeshi blogger, Abhijit Roy or the editors of Charlie Hebdo. Gauri overstepped her journalist’s limits. But that does not certainly mean that she will have to die. Journalism indeed is becoming a tougher profession.