The Press Club, Mumbai condemns the attacks on media persons and the destruction of their equipment and vehicles by crowds of protestors gathered at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on Saturday. The protesters, led by the Raza Academy and others claiming to represent Muslims, had massed in the afternoon to voice their dissent against atrocities committed on Muslims in Assam and Burma.
According to eyewitnesses, a Maulana, in his speech, verbally attacked the media claiming that the atrocities in Assam and Burma were deliberately not being covered by the press. This incensed the crowd who turned against photographers and TV crews on and around the maidan. In the rioting that followed by the mob, 3 O.B. vans of TV channels were burnt and gutted while nearly as dozen photo journalists were beaten and injured. Two persons were killed and a large number of policemen and public property was destroyed. Of the media men injured, Prashant Sawant of ‘Sakal Times’ and Vivek Bendre of ‘The Hindu’ were seriously injured and have been admitted in St. George’s Hospital. Most of their cameras were either lost or damaged beyond repair.
The Press Club deplores this action by the protestors of attacking media persons. Those covering the agitation had no views for or against the issues being raised and were professionally acting as messengers of the news. This is nothing but an attack on democratic institutions and these groups have no right to vent their frustration on innocent professionals involved in news coverage.
The incident also highlights the fact that the Mumbai Police were caught napping. The police were fully aware of the emotional nature of the issues being raised, but there was hardly any bandobust to control the situation. It was only after more than 30 minutes of full-scale rioting that the police reinforcements came and brought the situation under control. The Press Club demands that the Maharashtra government immediately order an enquiry to determine how the violence erupted and punish those responsible for it. Action must also be taken against those police officers who allowed the situation to become uncontrollable. The club also demands the cost of damage to lives and limbs and to the media equipment be recovered from the perpetrators of the violence.
The Press Club is also seriously concerned at the current trend of protesting and advocacy groups targeting and attacking media when they find that their demands are not met by the authorities. In recent days, the Anna Hazare camp had similarly lampooned and attacked media persons for playing down the numbers attending the Anna Hazare rallies. It again brings to the fore the long-standing demand for legislative protection against attacks on journalists, which has been stone-walled for over 2 years by the Government of Maharashtra.
Press Club, Mumbai
August 11, 2012