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India’s rapid economic growth[1] and technological advancements have propelled it onto the global stage. However, the country’s media industry grapples with many challenges alongside these developments.

This paper delves into the complexities of India’s media landscape, with a focus on press freedom and journalist safety. Utilizing KnightLab’s StoryMapJS[2], interactive map-based stories are analyzed to explore the diverse challenges faced by journalists, including financial, physical, digital, and psychological safety concerns. By examining detailed incident timelines for journalists Devendra Khare, Ismat Ara, and Navin Kumar, this paper provides valuable insights into media freedom’s evolving dynamics and the threats journalists and media organizations encounter in India.

Journalist Safety Comes in Various Forms

In any robust democracy, the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct. This right extends to journalists and media entities, who serve as indispensable intermediaries between the populace and governing authorities. However, journalists must be guaranteed high safety and security to carry out their pivotal role effectively. It is imperative to recognize that safety encompasses various dimensions and facets, which include

  1. Financial Safety: This is paramount for journalists as it provides them the stability to pursue meaningful work and disseminate information in the public domain. Ensuring financial security enables journalists to have a tangible impact on society while motivating them to work without apprehension for their own well-being and that of their families. However, achieving financial safety in India presents considerable challenges. According to the Lokniti-CSDS study titled ‘Indian Media: Trends and Patterns[3],‘ a staggering 82% of surveyed journalists reported that their media organizations exhibited a bias towards a particular party. Additionally, 16% of respondents stated that they were forced to leave their jobs due to perceived political affiliations, while 50% expressed concerns about potential job loss for dissenting against the government. These findings raise pertinent questions about the extent to which journalists must compromise their integrity to maintain job security and ensure financial stability.
  2. Physical Safety: Even if journalists can somehow sustain themselves — by relying on their existing finances or drawing money from independent sources — the safety concerns of their family members and themselves bother them. According to a report by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (R.R.A.G.)[4], at least 114 journalists have been targeted by the State through methods such as filing First Information Reports (F.I.R.s), arrests, detentions, and interrogations. Additionally, The Polis Project’s Watch the State[5] , which maps violence against Indian journalists, documented 256 instances of violence against journalists by both state and non-state actors between May 2019 and August 2021. These statistics underscore journalists’ significant risks during work, highlighting the urgent need for measures to ensure their physical safety and well-being.
  3. Digital Safety: In today’s digital era, ensuring journalists’ safety on social media platforms is as critical as safeguarding their physical well-being in the real world. Beyond facing unjustified censorship of their accounts and content, journalists often fall prey to the mob mentality prevalent in online spaces. This concern is particularly pronounced for women and LGBTQIA+ journalists [6], who frequently encounter harassment and shaming for covering topics deemed “uncomfortable” by certain ideologies. The “Bulli Bai Deals[7]” case is a poignant example of this disturbing trend. These instances underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address digital safety concerns for journalists, including robust mechanisms to combat online harassment and protect their rights to freedom of expression in virtual environments.

  4. Psychological Safety: The various risks to a journalist’s safety not only endanger their physical well-being but also give rise to a host of psychological challenges and mental health issues[8]. Anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances have become prevalent among journalists striving to uphold their professional standards and ethics amidst the myriad safety threats they encounter. These psychological repercussions highlight the profound toll that safety concerns can have on journalists’ overall well-being and underscore the importance of addressing their physical safety, psychological health, and resilience.


Devendra Khare

An Anatomy of Physical Abuse

The pursuit of editorial and journalistic freedom often faces formidable challenges.  Unfortunately, journalists who dare to confront established powers, whether governmental or corporate, often find themselves targeted and oppressed.

Devendra Khare, a journalist based in Uttar Pradesh, exemplifies this struggle for integrity and truth. Working as a district correspondent for the local Hindi-language news channel, News1India, in Jaunpur, Khare has built a reputation for unearthing stories that expose the hidden realities behind the polished facades of power. However, his commitment to honest journalism recently led him into a dangerous confrontation.

Khare’s ordeal began when he reported on a viral WhatsApp video depicting an alleged assault by a relative of a local political leader, Rituraj Singh. Despite threats and intimidation from individuals associated with Singh, Khare refused to back down. His determination to pursue the truth earned him enemies, and tragically, it culminated in a violent attack.

One evening, while conversing with fellow journalists outside his office, Khare was ambushed by a masked assailant who fired two shots, injuring him in the stomach and hand. The brazen attack sent shockwaves through the journalistic community, raising questions about the lengths certain individuals would go to silence dissenting voices.

Khare’s resilience in the face of adversity is commendable. Despite the trauma of the attack, he remained steadfast in seeking justice. With the support of local and mainstream media outlets and journalist protection organizations, Khare’s case gained widespread attention, ultimately leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.

However, Khare’s experience serves as a sobering reminder of the risks journalists face, particularly in regional and local contexts. While his story ended with a semblance of justice, many others endured similar threats and violence with little recourse. As such, Khare’s ordeal underscores the urgent need to safeguard press freedom and protect those who uphold it, ensuring that journalists can continue their vital work without fear or reprisal.


Ismat Ara

Identity Compromised on Digital Media

With the digital landscape taking precedence, efforts to stifle journalistic dissent have increasingly targeted online platforms, impacting journalists’ ability to reach the masses and perform their duties. The story of Ismat Ara, a courageous journalist, sheds light on the harrowing reality faced by many in the industry.

Ismat Ara, a decorated journalist based in New Delhi, has earned prestigious awards for her work covering a range of critical issues, from politics to gender rights. However, her world was turned upside down in 2022 when she woke up to find her image plastered on a derogatory “auction” app, Bulli Bai. This app, used to auction Muslim women online, labeled Ismat as the ‘deal of the day,’ alongside numerous other outspoken women critical of the government.

In response to this attack, Ismat bravely shared her ordeal on social media, garnering support from political figures and prompting action from authorities. Despite her resilience, the emotional toll of the experience weighed heavily on Ismat, compounded by her battle with COVID-19 and the subsequent prescription of medication for anxiety and sleeplessness.

However, there was a glimmer of justice when the mastermind behind the Bulli Bai app, a 21-year-old student, was arrested. Yet, Ismat’s story only scratches the surface of the widespread mental anguish experienced by countless women from marginalized communities who dare to speak out online.

Looking ahead, India faces the daunting task of addressing the pervasive hatred and misogyny that threatens to erode its social fabric. Ismat’s journey serves as a stark reminder of the challenges journalists face in upholding the principles of truth and justice, both online and offline.


Navin Kumar

From The Prism of Financial Safety

Navin’s journey through the world of journalism began in Bihar, where he received his education before venturing into the field. After completing his post-graduation diploma in Radio and Television Journalism from Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication, he embarked on his career with the newly launched 24/7 news channel Sahara Samay in 2006. Despite the modest salary offered, Navin’s passion for media fueled his determination to carve out a path in the industry.

Over the span of a decade, Navin honed his skills while working with various renowned Hindi news channels such as News Express, India TV, News 24, ABP News, and Aaj Tak. His dedication to serving the public and his thirst for knowledge kept him motivated throughout these years.

In 2017, Navin returned to Aaj Tak as an Editor, where he continued to excel in his roles, including reporting, voice-overs, and content development for prime-time shows. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that Navin stumbled upon a heart-wrenching story of a 12-year-old migrant girl who tragically perished while attempting to return home from Telangana to Chhattisgarh. Her story, emblematic of the struggles faced by millions of Indians, resonated deeply with Navin, but it also drew unwanted attention from his employer.

Navin’s uncompromising commitment to truthful journalism led to friction with the management, ultimately resulting in his departure from Aaj Tak. However, Navin saw this as an opportunity to pursue alternative journalism, and thus, he founded Article 19, investing his savings and severance amount into the venture. Despite facing initial challenges such as limited funds and technical infrastructure, Navin persisted.

The turning point came when Article 19 covered the case of advocate Prashant Bhushan, which significantly boosted the channel’s subscriber base and marked Navin’s first paycheck from YouTube. Today, Article 19 boasts an impressive 2 million subscribers, signaling Navin’s success in establishing a presence in the digital media landscape.

However, Navin acknowledges the ongoing challenges faced by Article 19, including a lack of resources and workforce, as well as his own burden as the channel’s founder. Despite these obstacles, Navin remains committed to expanding the channel’s platforms, reducing dependency on his own presence, increasing female viewership, and seeking grants to support growth.

Navin’s journey serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of journalists in the face of adversity. Yet, he recognizes that not all journalists are as fortunate, especially those from small towns who may be forced to leave the profession due to financial constraints. It is imperative for society to rally behind journalists, providing them with the necessary safeguards to continue their vital work in the face of challenges posed by legal threats, physical harm, and professional backlash. Only then can India hope to preserve the integrity of journalism in these challenging times.

The Analysis

The analysis of StoryMapJS interactive stories reveals many challenges confronting journalists in India. Financial constraints, physical threats, and digital harassment are prominent issues impacting journalist safety. The incident timelines for Devendra Khare, Ismat Ara, and Navin Kumar provide concrete examples of these challenges, highlighting the evolving dynamics of media freedom. Furthermore, recent incidents underscore the urgent need to address the systemic issues contributing to the vulnerability of journalists and media organizations in India and beyond.

In conclusion, this paper underscores the multifaceted challenges facing India’s media landscape, particularly regarding press freedom and journalist safety. By leveraging interactive map-based stories created with KnightLab’s StoryMapJS, this study has provided valuable insights into the diverse challenges confronting journalists. Concerted efforts are needed to address these challenges and safeguard press freedom and journalist safety in India’s dynamic media landscape.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the scholar and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Danish Siddiqui Foundation or any affiliated entities. The Foundation does not assume responsibility for the content or conclusions presented in this paper.