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HomeArticlesFreedom of Press in Danger! Troll Army Mauls Moderate Journalists
Monday, 08 April 2019 12:27

Freedom of Press in Danger! Troll Army Mauls Moderate Journalists

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It is said that a country becomes dangerous if its democracy faces imminent threat as only one opinion is allowed by the people in power, and opposing opinions are thwarted. In today’s world marred by fake news, India which should show the light to the rest of the world is itself in danger. The press freedom is hiding for its life; journalists are bought, silenced or murdered.

It is such a shame that media houses are openly supporting parties of their choice and mauling others for money & political patronage.

This is indeed a dangerous time for moderate journalists who are just doing their jobs honestly and reporting neutrally because they cannot cheat on their conscience or audience. However, ethical reporting is costing them a lot – including merciless trolling on social media. Trolling which has gained a proportion of war room unleashing an army of social media experts who are paid to troll a targeted person until that person’s public image is either ruined or he surrenders. 


Complaint to Home Ministry: 

Trolling of moderate journalists has become intense post Pulwama terror attack. To address the menace, the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), Press Club of India (PCI) and Press Association had to jointly write a letter to the Home Minister Rajnath Singh on 19 February 2019. They sought action against the trolls.

The letter said: “We would like to bring to your kind notice the vicious attacks on the social media directed against several media persons who have commented on the harassment faced by Kashmiri students and others following the dastardly killings of CRPF personnel in Pulwama.”

They added in the letter that the personal details of some of the media persons were made public, while some media persons had been “bombarded by phone calls threatening violence, including sexual violence and other forms of repeated intimidation”. 

The letter further said: “While the government agencies rightfully rein in those who are spreading fake news and putting out potentially inflammatory messages, we urge the Union Home Ministry under your leadership to act with equal alacrity in identifying and booking those who have been targeting media persons and other individuals with hate messages. Such messages have the potential of inciting hatred and invariably leading to hate crime. Kindly look into this with the urgency it demands.”

In the last the letter concluded that that the growing tendency to “demonise, hate and abuse people having different viewpoints” was a “deeply worrying trend” that went against the basic tenets of democracy.


Twitter: the hot bed of trolls: 

Famed journalist Barkha Dutt had recently said that Twitter had routinely been used to harass her and also alleged that Twitter did nothing to address her complaints. Following this, the National Commission for Women wrote to Delhi Police, requesting speedy investigation in the case. 

Barkha Dutt had uploaded on Twitter a screens hot of an e-mail, in which she placed on record her “absolute horror and disgust at Twitter’s encouragement of sexual abuse and gender inequality”. 

She said: “I have been locked out of Twitter because I outed out the names and numbers along with evidence of men who stalked me, threatened me with rape and sent me pictures of their genitals. Twitter was one of the platforms used to circulate my phone number to enable this.”


Trolls maul Print Media: 

Also, when on February 15, 2019, The Times of India published a front page article on the Pulwama terror attack with the headline, "Govt blames Pak after local youth rams CRPF convoy with IED-packed SUV in worst terror hit on J&K forces", it was badly chased by troll army. They called it ‘disgusting’, ‘absolutely appalling headline’. 

The TOI had to issue a note in this regard which read: "The headline clearly said it was a terror strike. There is nevertheless a feeling that it conveyed an impression of Pakistan being 'unfairly' blamed. While fully appreciating these sentiments, we wish to point out that our entire coverage was unambiguous in stating that the terrorist was a member of Pakistan-based and controlled Jaish-e-Mohammad."

Also, the newspaper reiterated that the paper condemns terror and grieves for the families of those martyred in the Pulwama attack on February 14.


Action by Editor’s Guild:

To raise the issue of incessant trolls of moderate or neutral journalists, the Editors Guild of India too requested social media platforms not to allow unlawful behaviour. The Guild condemned the ongoing tirade of abuse and intimidation of media persons, especially women journalists.

The Guild posted a Tweet: "Since much of this is being done through social media, the Guild urges their respective managements to exercise due caution and a sense of responsibility."

The Guild said: "Business models thriving on hate of any kind are reprehensible. We hope cybercrime cells will address on priority any complaint lodged by journalists facing abuse.”

After Barkha Dutt’s episode, other journalists too came on-board and unanimously spoken out against online harassment that must be held accountable.


India going down in ranking: 

Due to threats to lives and trolls, some editors had quit in recent years, having reportedly succumbed to pressure and pulled stories critical of the current regime. The country came down to 138 in the Reporters With our Borders' World Press Freedom Index 2018, which is below war-torn Afghanistan.

Also, Watchdog CPJ ranks India 13th in its Global Impunity Index, a list highlighting countries where the murders of journalists are least likely to be punished.

According to a journalist, reporters can take trolls once or twice, but when they are trolled hundreds of times,it inevitably has an impact on their morale. Several journalists keep an eye on what is being posted on Twitter but don’t dare post anything themselves because they’re scared of the backlash.

Therefore, the time has come when the government needs to strongly ensure international standards that ask of governments to take all necessary steps to protect against threats, attacks and harm by non-state actors.

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