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Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were some limitations. A vigorous and growing press reflected a wide variety of political, social, and economic beliefs. Newspapers and magazines regularly published, and television channels broadcast, investigative reports and allegations of government wrongdoing, and the press generally promoted human rights and criticized perceived government lapses.
Under the Official Secrets Act, the Government may restrict publication of sensitive stories or suppress criticism of its policies. On January 10, the Government found that the 2002 detention under the Act of Syed Iftikhar Gilani was unjustified and released him.
In January, the Government passed a Freedom of Information law. This law allows citizens to request and receive documents from the Government that are considered to be in the public domain.
Most print media were privately owned. In the electronic media, 80 percent of the television channels were privately owned, and 20 percent were operated by Doordarshan, a semi-autonomous body controlled by the Government. Government-controlled radio was the main source of news for much of the population.
The Newspapers Incitements to Offenses Act remained in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. Under the Act, a district magistrate may prohibit the press from publishing material likely to incite murder or any act of violence, and authorizes the authorities to seize newspaper premises and printing presses. Despite these restrictions, newspapers in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, reported in detail on alleged human rights abuses by the Government and regularly published press releases of Islamic separatist Kashmiri groups. The authorities generally allowed foreign journalists to travel freely in Jammu and Kashmir, where they regularly spoke with separatist leaders and filed reports on government abuses.
In Assam, the state government reportedly attempted to impede criticism by filing a number of criminal defamation charges against journalists.
In July, the Tamil Nadu government brought a defamation suit against the English daily The Hindu for printing a series of articles about the mishandling by police of a kidnapping. The case was not heard during the year.
In November, the Tamil Nadu Assembly speaker ordered the arrest of several officers and journalists at The Hindu. In response, the newspaper obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court against the Speaker's arrest directive.
In December, Randeep Sudan, a senior official in the office of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, filed defamation charges in his personal capacity against the daily newspaper Andhra Jyody. The newspaper had reported that Sudan was corrupt but also published his response to the allegations.
The Press Council is a statutory body of journalists, publishers, academics, and politicians, with a chairman appointed by the Government. Designed to be a self-regulating mechanism for the press, it investigates complaints of irresponsible journalism and sets a code of conduct for publishers. This code includes a commitment not to publish articles or details that might incite caste or communal violence. The Council publicly criticized newspapers or journalists it believed had broken the code of conduct, but its findings, while noted by the press community, carried no legal weight.
At the national and state levels, governments and political parties often seek to influence regional media. The Hindu was unable to get advertising from the state government of Tamil Nadu after its negative reporting of the actions taken by the state. In addition, in Gujarat, a number of journalists at English language newspapers and electronic media, who had criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government and its political supporters following the 2002 riots, continued to be subjected to "strong-arm" tactics. The threat of losing state government revenue contributed to self-censorship by smaller media outlets, which heavily relied on government advertising.
Authorities occasionally beat, detained, and harassed journalists, which resulted in some self-censorship. For example, on August 2, Bapi Roy, a photojournalist for the Agartala daily were beaten by members of the police. At year's end, the police had investigated the incident but no charges had been filed. In September, government employees beat several journalists in Assam, three of whom required hospitalization. At year's end, a departmental inquiry was conducted, and the Government suspended several state employees.
In some instances, allegations of violence against journalists were made against state governments. On May 17, the offices of two Bengali daily newspapers, Dainik Vivek and Dainik Janapad, were attacked by armed men believed to owe allegiance to the state's Information Minister. At year’s end, two persons were arrested for the incidents.
In August, two journalists were assaulted by the Students Federation of India, which was affiliated with CPI(M) in West Bengal. Press reports suggested the journalists were assaulted to deter them from reporting inappropriate actions by members of the SFI.
During the year, the 2001 case of police assaulting 12 members of the press during a DMK rally was decided. The Chennai High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay compensation to the 12 journalists; however, pending a determination of damages, at year's end no compensation had been paid.
The Government maintains a list of banned books that may not be imported or sold in the country; some--such as Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"--because they contain material government censors have deemed inflammatory and the government claimed the banned books caused communal tensions. In December, West Bengal banned Taslima Nasreem's "Split in Two" because the book allegedly slandered Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
Intimidation by militant groups caused significant self-censorship by journalists. The local press continued to face pressure from militant groups attempting to influence coverage. For example, on January 31, unknown assailants killed Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, editor of an independent wire service in Srinagar. The motive for his killing remained unknown. On April 28, unknown assailants killed 5 persons after detonating a car bomb and throwing grenades into the offices of Doordarshan Television and Radio in Srinagar. The clash resulted in the deaths of three assailants and two security officers. On May 29, unknown assailants shot Zafar Iqbal, a reporter for the Kashmir Images in Srinagar. Local journalists believed Igbal may have been targeted because the publication is known for supporting the Government. The police had not arrested anyone in connection with the killing by year's end.
During the year, as in 2002, 2001, 2000, and 1999, Kashmiri militant groups threatened journalists and editors and even forced the temporary closing of some publications that were critical of their activities. For example, in December, activists from the Kashmiri separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front ransacked the editorial offices of "Chattan," a vernacular weekly in Srinagar, after the newspaper published material critical of the militants' leader, Yasin Malik.
Private satellite television was distributed widely by cable or satellite dish. These channels provided substantial competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network, in both presentation and credibility. Doordarshan frequently was accused of manipulating the news in the Government's favor; however, in some parts of the country satellite channel owners used their medium to promote the platforms of the political parties that they supported. In addition, citizens had access to uncensored Cable News Network, the British Broadcasting Company and a variety of other foreign programs.
Government measures to control objectionable content on satellite channel -- notably, tobacco and alcohol advertisements -- still were in effect, which held cable distributors liable under civil law. The (often foreign) satellite broadcasters, rather than the domestic cable operators, fall within the scope of the regulation.
AM radio broadcasting remained a government monopoly. Private FM radio station ownership was legalized during 2000, but licenses only authorized entertainment and educational content. Although there were privately owned radio stations, they were not permitted to broadcast news.
A government censorship board reviewed films before licensing them for distribution. The board censored material it deemed offensive to public morals or communal sentiment. For example, in March, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) denied a certificate to the documentary "Aakrosh." The film's producers said that the authorities denied a certificate, and thereby prevented the film from being shown publicly, in retaliation for its expose on the riots in Gujarat. This banning encouraged self-censorship among film-makers.
In August, 11 security officials in Lucknow reportedly assaulted a senior television correspondent during a Presidential visit. He was hospitalized after sustaining several injuries during the attack. In December, 50 political activists vandalized the offices of a television station in Mumbai which aired criticism of the state's Deputy Chief Minister, who later resigned and accepted "moral responsibility."
The Government limited access to the Internet. The Informational Technology Act provides for censoring information on the Internet on public morality grounds, and it considers "unauthorized access to electronic information" a crime. According to Reporters Without Borders, this law allows police officers to search the homes or offices of Internet users, at any time and without a warrant. On July 27, Anirudh Bahal and Mathew Samuel, both reporters with the on-line newspaper Tehelka.com were arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with a story published on the Web site in October 2000. Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor-in-chief of the Web site, says that Tehelka.com is "a victim of competing political interest in a largely corrupt Indian establishment."
The Government restricted academic freedom. Some government officials continued to advocate "saffronizing," or raising the profile of Hindu cultural norms and views in public education, which has prompted criticism from minority leaders, opposition politicians, academics, and advocates of secular values. On January 31, the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD), headed by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, passed strict academic guidelines to regulate academic partnerships between Indian and western universities and academics, in line with Hindutva philosophy. The new guidelines issued to all central universities require HRD permission for "all forms of foreign collaborations and other international academic exchange activities," including seminars, conferences, workshops, guest lectures, research, etc.
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