Journalists in the line of fire: How safe are they in India?

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When he was shot dead on 13 May in Bihar, Rajdeo Ranjan, bureau chief of Hindi daily Hindustan in Siwan, possibly became the fourth Indian journalist to be murdered in 2016 for work-related reasons.

Ranjan, who worked for Hindustan for 20 years, was shot dead by assailants on a motorcycle while he was returning home from work.

A day earlier, a Hindi television journalist was shot dead in Jharkhand.

Since 1992, according to a global database, 25 Indian journalists have been murdered for work-related reasons, and the cause of death of another 23 is suspected to be similar. Further, the numbers show a rising trend, with print journalists covering corruption and politics being targeted by political and criminal groups.

How many: India is among the 10 worst in murder count.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based non-profit that promotes press freedom worldwide, investigates the death of every journalist to determine whether it is work-related. It classifies these deaths into two broad categories: “motive confirmed” and “motive unconfirmed”.

It classifies a case as “motive confirmed” only “if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was murdered in direct reprisal for his or her work”. This could be crossfire/combat, a dangerous assignment (while covering a riot) or murder (“the targeted killing of a journalist, whether premeditated or spontaneous, in direct relation to the journalist’s work”).

It classifies a case as “motive unconfirmed” when the motive is unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, and continues to investigate.

In all, CPJ registered 1,189 journalist deaths under the “motive confirmed” category since 1992, of which, 786 were murders. Data for India since 1992 shows a rising trend of murders, with the last block of five years being the worst since 1999-2004. Among countries, India ranks number 10 in absolute number of murders (without adjusting for population) and sixth in terms of the count of the “motive unconfirmed” set.




Who: Print journalists covering corruption and politics, felled by political and criminal groups.

CPJ further breaks down the data by the work profile of the murdered journalists. An analysis of the CPJ information for the 25 Indian journalists shows they were mostly from print publications—reporters and editors.

Further, they were assigned to cover corruption, politics and crime, and they were killed by political and criminal groups.



What: India lags in solving cases of journalist murders and nurturing freedoms of the press.

The CPJ Impunity Index casts a light on the countries where the killers of journalists have gone unpunished. In the 2015 index, which looks at data between September 2005 and August 2015, the top three countries in this list are involved in an armed conflict. India features in the index for the eighth consecutive year, at number 14.

Another annual survey by Reporters Without Borders measures the degree of freedom available to journalists in their respective countries, combining quantitative data on abuses and qualitative responses. In 2015, it ranked India a lowly 133rd out of 180 countries and classified it as “bad” in press freedom.




Data sources: Reporters Without Borders (World Press Freedom Index data), Committee to Protect Journalists (all other data). is a search engine for public data.


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