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IndiaSpend

Murder Of Karun Misra, 9 Other Journalists, Reveals Rising Danger

 When Karun Misra did die–shot at close range while riding a motorcycle on his way home–it was a shock to his family. He left behind a wife, Payal, and two young children, including a 15-day old newborn. But Karun, a journalist in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkarnagar district, was aware his life was in danger, a friend, Manish Tiwari, told IndiaSpend.

From all accounts a driven, idealistic man, Karun, 32, had written stories about a particularly dangerous business–illegal mining. Mafia hit-men first came for Karun after he refused bribes and ignored threats, said the friend. On February 5, “he got information that something was going to happen to him on either the 11th or 12th of February”, said the friend.

A day later, Karun was dead, the fifth journalist murdered in India’s most populous state since March 2015, accounting for half the 10 killed nationwide, according to data independently compiled by The Hoot, a media watchdog, and IndiaSpend. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global advocacy, called India “Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan”. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) affirms this statement with their compilation of data showing that for the year of 2015, there were only two deaths of journalists in Pakistan and no deaths in Afghanistan.

Karun’s case is unique because the mastermind behind his murder and the main shooter were arrested. This is rare. As many as 24 journalists were murdered for work-related reasons in India since 1992, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) data reveal. But 96% of the cases are unsolved, ranking India 14th globally for impunity in murder cases against journalists, according to the CPJ impunity index.

“That’s because the concerned governments are not willing to really protect journalists performing their duties,” Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, media commentator and Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, told IndiaSpend.

“Indian journalists daring to cover organised crime and its links with politicians have been exposed to a surge in violence, especially violence of criminal origin, since the start of 2015,” Reporters Without Borders states. Illegal mining for a variety of sand and minerals–particularly sand for the construction industry–is a crime that is in growing evidence across India.

Two murders monitored by RSF (in 2015) were linked to illegal mining, “a sensitive environmental subject in India”, an RSF report released in 2015 said. RSF’s data are estimates of murders confirmed as work-related; there are four more awaiting confirmation.

“Soldier-like” Karun went up against powerful, illegal industry

“He didn’t like to do stories and leave them just like that,” said another friend of Karun, Anil Dwevedi. “He wanted a result from it… He was soldier-like, he would not call police and say ‘something is happening’ and they should go there.”

When Dwevedi met him four days before he was killed, Karun, a reporter with Jansandesh, a Hindi daily, confessed, “There is some danger, some difficulties… but I have to fight.”

His fight was against a powerful, illegal industry that is steadily expanding despite a new law, promulgated in January 2015, that allows for five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 500,000 per hectare of land mined illegally.

But illegal mining has steadily increased over the last six years (except for a dip in 2013-14), as this government statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) revealed. In UP, where his investigation of illegal mining cost Karun his life, cases registered almost doubled over a decade.

Source: Rajya SabhaData for 2015-16 is as of January 2016.

With illegal mining embedded in UP’s economy and politics, Karun’s friends and family pointed out that despite arrests, illegal mining in their area has not stopped.

“The reason for which Karun was killed is still going on,” said one of the two friends we spoke to. “Police are not doing what they can to stop the illegal mining business… it’s still going on.”

For Karun’s brother, Varun Misra, the shock endures. He has not forgotten how Karun did not answer his phone when he called on February 13. At 11 pm, he received a call from an uncle. “[My uncle] told me Karun was dead. I was so shocked. I could not believe it.”

46% of Indian journalists killed on duty were covering politics

Since 1992, only 3% of journalists in India have died covering wars, according to CPJ data, and as many as 46% of journalists who were killed while working were covering politics; 35% corruption.

India is not alone in this trend, reported RSF: “Two thirds of the journalists killed worldwide in 2014 were killed in war zones. In 2015, it was the exact opposite. Two thirds were killed in countries at peace.”

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Death is not the only cause for concern for the Indian journalist. “Human rights defenders, journalists and protesters continued to face arbitrary arrests and detentions. Over 3,200 people were being held in January [2015] under administrative detention on executive orders without charge or trial,” the latest Amnesty International report states.

Journalists face hostile environments across the world: 71 were killed with confirmed motives, with another 25 unconfirmed, according to CPJ’s statistics. RSF records that 43 journalists have been killed for unclear reasons.

Karun’s brother, Varun, said crimes were getting “bigger and criminals bolder” and this is why punishment was important. “This can happen with anyone anywhere,” he said. “My only appeal to the authorities is a speedy trial and severe punishment. Death is inevitable but nobody deserves to die like this.”

(Campbell is a graduate in Film and Media from Otago University, New Zealand.)

Correction: We wrongly stated the name of Karun Misra’s friend. It is Anil Dwevedi.

We welcome feedback. Please write to respond@indiaspend.org. We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.

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Who Controls The News?

The Digestion of November’s Terrorist Attacks Through Social Media and Algorithms.

An Inquisitive nature has never been more important, and the world’s tunnel-vision focus on November’s terrorist attacks, draws attention to the lack of concern for a wider perspective.

The media are constantly criticised for eurocentrism but can we really put blame on just one force? Could another culprit be our lack of curiosity, and our uncontrollable quench for social media?

Pew Research Centre reports show that nearly half of web-using adults within the US in 2014 gathered their news about politics and government from Facebook. These results allude to the fact that half of society seeks information from like-minded friends and algorithms.

To put these results in perspective, A Time article states that Facebook users have access to up to 1,500 posts a day, but only see around 300. To ensure an interesting newsfeed, Facebook applies thousands of factors to determine what shows up. The biggest influences are your closest friends, and this is judged by how often you have online contact with them.The algorithm also assumes “trending” content that has been given big exposure.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researcher Karrie Karahalios ran a study on how people change their online behaviour due to newsfeed algorithms, and she discovered that 62% of her respondents did not even know that algorithms controlled their news feeds.

When we analyse the Eurocentric focus and criticism on November’s terrorist attacks, this information speaks volumes. Eurocentric solidarity was a prime focus on social media after November’s attacks. Facebook was quick to offer its French flag filter for people’s profile photos, as well as their Safety Check. Whilst this is a supportive social discourse, Beirut also experienced a similar terrorist attack the day before Paris, and many critics were quick to point out the obvious hypocrisies.

Vision of Humanity constructed a study, which showed that 78% of deaths from terrorism in 2014 was concentrated within Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Since the year 2000 only 2.6% of deaths due to terrorism have occurred in the West. If we are to express solidarity for ‘all of humanity’, surely this should extend past Europe?

The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik had an interesting perspective on this notion, stating that ” Yes the media is skewed, but we, the consumers, are also complicit – in that media is no longer a top-down affair, transmitting information to inert readers or watchers. We determine the news agenda far more than previously.” This information is proven by the fact that Beirut’s terrorist attack, did get a lot of media coverage from many high profile platforms, however it was society that did not give this event any traction.

If the media gave coverage upon the Beirut attacks and society did not listen, we must ask ourselves, why did we deem the Paris attacks more newsworthy? David Uberti, from Columbia Journalism Review, covered an article with insight from The Times International Editor, Joe Kahn, whom argued that The Paris Attacks were more newsworthy for western society, due to the events “death toll, the scale of the attack, and the challenge to intelligence agencies in the US and abroad that tend to work closely together”. Uberti also mentioned that these attacks demonstrated that ISIS has the ability to attack outside of the Middle East, and on foreign land.

Kahn also verified the consumerist element to formatting news coverage. “It is also true that coverage of terrorist attacks does vary according to other, more subtle factors, such as how surprising the attack is, how likely it is to impact policy among the Western powers, and how likely it is to resonate with large numbers of our readers.” Therefore we must also take in to account that many media platforms run as businesses and to some extent, have to comply with consumerist demands. Therefore western tragedies are more likely to dominate the front page, as this is what the west’s readers have been continuously drawing their attentions to.

Journalist, Max Fisher states “My peers throughout the media have dutifully and diligently covered such attacks for years. Local reporters and foreign correspondents out in the field have of course done far more than I have, spending days interviewing victims and painstakingly reconstructing events — despite knowing that readers were all but certain to ignore the stories. “Nobody is going to read this” is a phrase we’ve grown accustomed to hearing.”

We can see that the media, and the public both have a role to play in what is produced. If journalists are covering international events, and we are not paying attention, then editors will not want to put these as front page spreads, as it is not economically viable.

Psychologist Julia Hormes led a study in the addiction to facebook. Her research showed that her respondents spent 1/3 of their Internet time on Facebook, and 67% got online notifications on their phones.

Thus, we can see that there are a variety of factors. It is not one, or the other. We might have deemed Paris ‘more newsworthy’ and gave those articles more traffic (or criticised that Beirut was not getting enough media light), but we also must take into account, the news operates on a far more complicated scale than it ever has previously. There are algorithms which will preference what we have already viewed/or/liked. Social media is not an adequate representation of what is going on in the world. It is always going to tunnel vision our perspective.

Therefore, when we read the news we must read globally. Do not just read your local news, read many different accounts and perspectives on what is going on, in order to construct your own view point.

We must remember that we have a role to play within the media’s dialogue. Social media subtracted our focus in many ways, but it has also given us a voice. If Algorithms channel our newsfeed, we can make a conscious effort to share international events, and let our empathy and understanding extend beyond borders. Eventually, Facebook, and the media, will follow in our footsteps, as their actions are only a reflection of consumerist demands.