Right at the middle of the scene

 

By Tongam Rina

Many people wonder why journalists expose themselves to danger by reporting from war zones or places and situations regarded as difficult. Foolhardy perhaps, but when a truth has to be told, it better be told, even in the face of danger.Most journalists are aware of the dangers that they may have to face while discharging their duties, more so in conflict areas, but still that is not a deterrent. They better be there, at times a little scared or intimidated perhaps, but right at the middle of the scene, where things are unfolding.In many newsrooms across the world, editors and journalists often have verbal duels about assignments from not too safe places. It’s normal for editors to give way to sulking journalists, who refuse to be armchair journalists.  weiterlesen

To be honest, to me personally, the sense of accomplishment that one derives from reporting facts and the ideal that people are getting to know the truth hides the insecurity and the fear at the time of writing. One plods on, undaunted- until the next threatening phone call or intimidation brings home the reality that the danger is real.

A Call of duty

It is times like this that are the most difficult- having to grapple with one’s sense of duty and conviction and on the other hand that of raw, unadulterated fear and of wanting to be alive. Is it an easy decision? It is difficult to say- because the next story, the next truth to be told just jumps up and grabs you, pushing these real, valid considerations to some recess in the back of the mind. I have termed it ‚call of duty‘, while some have called it obstinacy!

With their insatiable urge to report what is happening, many journalists often do tread very difficult paths, exposing themselves to unimaginable dangers. In many cases, it’s a tragic end. But even in the face of tragedy, we hear stories of courage that inspires many young people to join the profession.

Born out of courage and conviction

Journalisten helfen Journalisten (JHJ) is one such organization, born out of courage and conviction by a group of people, who would not be overwhelmed by the death of a dear one and a colleague. The organization was formed in memory of Egon Scotland, who died reporting in 1991, from the front, during the Balkan war.  Today it has reached out to hundreds of journalists across the world.

In June 2013, I took part in the 20th year commemoration of JHJ in Munich and met many media professionals, ostracized and forced to run, merely for doing their jobs and many who simply refuse to be intimidated. I felt a sense of re-affirmation in the commitment to report the facts.

What made a difference was not just the sense of physical safety, but the rehabilitation of the confidence in one’s work.

A heavy price for the freedom of speech

In India, many journalists are forced to give up their jobs, because it is too dangerous not only for themselves but their families too. Journalists, whistle blowers and activists do pay a heavy price for the freedom of speech, even if it is constitutionally guaranteed. After a few frenzied media reports and protest marches, everything is swept under the carpet or forgotten till the next one happens. There are examples galore of how, not just the non-state actors but at times even how the government persecutes people who speak their mind. An anti-corruption cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was hauled to jail and his website was banned on charges of sedition last year. The cartoons depicted various corruptions that plague the system. Sadly, among things that Indian lawmakers and keepers lack, is a sense of humour.

But in all honesty, there is also a space for Trivedi, and others like him, to express what they believe in. If one goes by the traffic on social media and on other fora, he was heard and he was applauded.

While on the one hand there are spaces for stifling of voices, there are also celebrations of those very voices. India, as is the world, remains a paradox. On a personal front, I cannot wish away the last year. It did happen and it did bring me a lot of pain and a sense of fragility- I cannot push that away. But in this same year I have also learnt, with support from a lot of people, that I can wipe away the feeling of being stifled…that I can push away that hand that tries to grab my pen, or my keyboard!

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In the Indian public, among international observers and local colleagues, Tongam Rina has an excellent reputation, which is based on her journalistic work and her personal integrity. Although the Indian constitution guarantees a free press, the example of Tongam Rina shows the acute danger that critical journalists are exposed to in the country: As a reporter for the Arunachal Times in the federal state of Arunachal Pradesh, she reports on corruption within local authorities in connection with the distribution of food, the questionable construction of dams, environmental scandals, military operations by the extremist organization NSCN and the situation of women in India. On July 15th 2012, Tongam Rina was gunned down in front of the editorial office of the newspaper and seriously injured. Currently, Tongam Rina was a guest of the Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte (Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted) . „Journalists helping Journalists“ has sponsered her stay in Germany after the violent attack 2012.