Thanks to a long struggle by media personalities, on 7 April 2017 the Maharashtra Assembly passed the first ever journalist protection law in the country, making attacks on journalists and media houses in the state a non-bailable offense.
Introduced by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017 was passed by the state Assembly without debate on the final day of the Budget Session of the Legislature.
Any incident of violence against media persons or damage or loss of property of media persons or media institutions is now punishable in the state.
Provisions of the Act
According to the Act, any person committing, abetting, instigating or provoking any violent act against media persons or media houses shall be punished with up to three years’ jail term or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.
A police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police will have to attend to any cases fled under this Act. Convicted offenders will have to reimburse any property damage or medical expenses incurred by the media person who was attacked.
If the convict is unable to pay the expenses, these would be recovered as arrears of land revenue.
The Act has clearly defined “a media institution” as “any registered newspaper establishment, news channel establishment, news-based electronic media establishment or news stations”.
A “media person” has been described as a person whose principal vocation is that of a journalist, who is employed on regular or contract basis, including editor, news editor, sub-editor, reporter, correspondent, cartoonist, news photographer, television cameraman, leader-writer, feature writer, copy tester and proof reader.
“Violence” has been categorised an act which causes or may cause any harm, injury or endangering life of a media person during the discharge of his duty as a media person, or causing damage or loss of property belonging to any media person or media institution.
According to News18, Chief Minister Fadnavis said that due to “rampant instances” of violent attacks against media persons and damage or loss to the property of media houses, there was a strong demand to prevent such violence and recurring attacks.
“In order to effectively curb the occurrences of such incidents, protect and safeguard the media persons and their property and that of the media houses in the state, the government considered it expedient to enact a special law,” Fadnavis explained.
Besides some criticism, the new Act has been widely welcomed by media persons, media groups and institutions, besides the opposition parties in the state.
The National Union of Journalists, India (NUJI) lauded the Maharashtra government for its pro-journalist stand and on becoming the first state in India to frame a journalists’ protection Act, which it termed a “great achievement for the entire journalist community”.
NUJI President Ras Bihari said: “The sincere efforts of the NUJI and its district units to build a pressure on all state governments in the country have paid off. The NUJI will take the Maharashtra law as a model and lobby with other states to pass similar legislation.”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said: “The IFJ welcomes the passing of the legislation to protect journalists in Maharashtra state and congratulates its affiliates and journalists unions for the achievement. Such laws will help greatly to address violence against journalists and reduce impunity for attackers. Such security can help ensure that journalists work independently. The IFJ demands the effective implementation of the law; and urges other state government and the federal government of India to consider such legislation.”
Press freedom in India
India has moved down three places since last year in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index released by international free speech advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF). (The entire report can be read here.)
The index, which was released on 26 April 2017, showed India’s ranking which was just three places above Pakistan’s (ranked 139) and was one notch below war-torn Palestine (ranked 135). Other neighbouring countries of India, Bhutan and Nepal were ranked 84th and 100th respectively. India’s ranking is now to 136 in a list of 180 countries.
The low ranking performance has been blamed on PM Modi’s “nationalism” and increasing “self-censorship” in the mainstream media. In the index report about India, RSF had been critical of social media and internet gag in Kashmir and said that in the absence of any protective mechanism, coverage of sensitive regions continued to be “very difficult”.
In such a situation, laws like Maharashtra’s journalist protection law are the need of the hour.
The Logical Indian community appreciates the efforts of the Maharashtra government to make the state safer for journalists. We hope that more states follow Maharashtra’s example and adopt similar laws.