Staff Reporter GUWAHATI, Aug 9 - Noting that vulnerability of journalists is not only in conflict situations but also at normal times, senior journalist and public editor of The Wire.in Pamela Philipose today said it is the duty of the government and civil society to recognise the value of the crucial role journalists play in a democratic society, defend their work and help protect them in volatile situations. Philipose was delivering the 16th Kamala Saikia Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘When the messenger gets shot: Violence against journalists’ at the Vivekananda Kendra here today.
Pamela Philipose speaking at the event. – AT photo
“Any attempt to shoot the messenger represents social failure. It signals the incapacity of a society, a group, or an individual to distinguish between an existing reality and the medium that frames that reality. It rejects the possibility of critical engagement with issues of important public concern.
“It destroys the slightest possibility of building a rational discourse. Most disturbing of all, it closes the door on the possibility of an informed response to crucial political, social and economic developments of our times.”
She said in earlier times too, warring factions had discovered the need to communicate and had designated messengers, who carried white flags, for the purpose. These messengers were never shot, which shows how important they were.
“The media and those who write for the media are today’s messengers and are often called upon to expose uncomfortable truths about the everyday realities in our daily lives. Kamala Saikia understood this and saw it as an responsibility that came with the role of being a journalist,” Philipose said.
She said so many years after Saikia’s assassination, journalists everywhere, including in India, continue to be extremely vulnerable to attack and assault.
Philipose cited new data that revealed that India today is among the countries in the world where journalists are most threatened.
“In many parts of the country, including in Assam and other parts of North East, they are functioning under the shadow of intimidation and violence, whether from mainstream political parties, militant outfits or criminal syndicates. A pointer to this growing threat came from the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, in April this year. According to its World Press Freedom Index, India now ranks 133rd among 180 countries, having slipped three slots since last year,” she said.
Philipose said that despite it being over quarter of a century since Kamala Saikia was abducted by ULFA militants and killed so brutally, it is tragic that justice is still proving elusive in this case.
Presiding over the function, veteran journalist Kanaksen Deka rued that despite the entire journalist fraternity of the State pressing for justice in the Kamala Saikia assassination case since a quarter century now, the government machinery has done little.
“If such a person cannot get justice, how can the common man expect it? May be this is why people have lost trust in the State machinery and they now tend to demand CBI inquiry in every case. This lack of trust on the State machinery is very unfortunate,” Deka said.
He also informed that in a ruling yesterday, the Gauhati High Court had given four weeks’ time to the State government to give the status of the inquiry into the killing of Kamala Saikia.
The lecture was organised by the Journalist Kamala Saikia Memorial Trust in association with Guwahati Press Club.
The organisers had planned to felicitate Editor of The Assam Tribune PG Baruah for his contributions in the field of journalism in the State, but he could not be present at the function due to his poor health condition. The organisers have decided to felicitate him at his residence tomorrow.
Senior journalists Dilip Chandan and Sanjeeb Phukan were among those present at the function.