Social Media: The Dark Age of Journalism

“The independent Indian journalist Rana Ayyub has spent her career covering taboo subjects, including violence against lower-caste groups and minorities in India. Due to this, Ayyub has faced a wave of harassment on social media, including pornographic videos with her face photoshopped in them, and the publication of her address and personal phone number.”[1]

“Collusion between officials and organized crime poses a grave threat to journalists’ safety and cripples the judicial system at all levels. Journalists who cover sensitive political stories or organized crimes are warned, threatened and often gunned down in cold blood.”[2]

“More journalists (59%) are now being killed in countries at peace than in war zones” and, at the same time, there has been a 2% rise in journalists being deliberately murdered or targeted.”[3]

These are the statements or news headlines catching everyone’s eye every other day. Journalism is under serious threat today because of the magnified use of social media. It is the duty of a journalist, however opinionated or grave a situation, to always deliver precise news to the world.

When television and print media were the only ways to deliver the news to the people, journalists were also threatened then, journalists are threatened now. The difference at present is that social media has made it accessible for people to threaten or hurt anyone, with or without leaving a trace. There have been instances where journalists have posted an opinion and in the comment sections, however out of line, people go “you should not be allowed to leave your house”, “next time you say something, you won't be alive”, “who gave you the right to say something", the problem is not just people hating on journalists, there are hate groups out there whose main focus lies plainly in making others’ lives miserable.

Journalists are also humans, who do not deserve such hate, they are sometimes wrong in what they post or may simply have got a fact or two wrong. This in no way justifies the kind of comments or threats they receive from people. There is a thin line between constructive criticism and blaming someone, and that thin line is often blurred with the aggressive use of social media.

Krishna Prasad is an Indian journalist. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of a news magazine, Outlook, between 2012-2016. In one of his interviews which he gave to the Dharwad District Union of Working Journalists (DDUWJ) on the occasion of “Press Day,” he mentioned that Indian journalism is going through its worst phase in history, according to him it is even worse than the situation during Emergency in the country. He further added that while the Emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had a beginning and an end, the current situation of the “undeclared emergency” has neither.[4]

Express Newspaper vs. Union of India– In this case, the validity of the Working Journalist Act, 1955 was challenged. However, the court held the Act as valid. It stated that the press was not immune from the laws of general application or the laws of Industrial relations. The reason behind passing the Act was to improve the service condition of women in the newspaper industry and therefore, imposes reasonable restrictions on Article 19(1)(a).

Romesh Thapper vs. State of Madras– In this case, a law banning entry and circulation of journals in the state was held invalid. The court held that there is no doubt that the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas, and that freedom is ensured by freedom of circulation, but it was contended that a law which authorized restriction on the ground of ‘public safety or the maintenance of public order falls outside the scope of the authorized restriction under clause (2) and therefore void and unconstitutional.

R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu– In this case, the Supreme Court held that the government does not have any power to impose any law which restrains the publication of defamatory material against its officials. However, they could take action for the damages after the publication of such material but only if they prove that the publication was based on false information.

There have been certain incidents in the past that involved online and physical harassment of journalists, laws were to be made for their protection. To conserve the vote-based lifestyle, individuals should be allowed to communicate their sentiments and spread their perspectives and opinions of individuals and ideas. Press, which is viewed as an incredible mechanism of correspondence should be allowed to assume its part in building a society. The right to speak freely and articulation is characterized under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The administrator of the Drafting Committee, Dr BR Ambedkar, clarified that there is no compelling reason to specify the opportunity of the press independently because the opportunity of the press and an individual or a resident were equivalent to their entitlement to articulation. The designers of the Constitution of India considered the opportunity of the press as a fundamental piece of the ability to speak freely and articulation as ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Numerous reviews have tracked down that many nations have not embraced any arrangement identified with the insurance of writers who become survivors of online badgering. Some individual nations have embraced explicit enactments especially focusing on online provocation and by and large, have disallowed badgering through any means, including the web. Explicit offences relevant to writers and non-columnists found in a few nations are:

● Shielding Canadians from Online Crime Act was established in 2015 in Canada, to deny the cyberbullying and non-consensual circulation of personal pictures, and so on

● In Finland, numerous laws contain various wrongdoings explicit to online conduct, for example, disregarding an individual's online protection and obstruction with the tranquil satisfaction in correspondence and so forth

As much as the freedom of the press is important, their protection is equally essential, otherwise, people reach their homes to threaten and harass. Citizens must be made aware of the negative impacts; the smallest of comments have on people and even entire families. According to them, journalism is a journalist's job which in stark contrast to what it is - the bravery to speak the truth, loyalty to the country, and integrity for not being sold to gaudy people in power.

[1] https://www.firstpost.com/india/rana-ayyub-on-global-list-of-journalists-under-threat-abuse-of-those-pursuing-truth-must-be-stemmed-with-govt-action-6390521.html [2] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/may/28/how-the-free-press-worldwide-is-under-threat [3] https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-yearly-round-historically-low-number-journalists-killed-2019 [4] https://blog.ipleaders.in/protection-journalists-online-harassment/

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