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Television channels attacked by political party activists in Maharashtra State

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 24 NOVEMBER 2009 - Two Indian TV channels belonging to the CNN-IBN network were violently attacked by activists of the Shiv Sena political group on Friday, 20 November.

In a series of three separate attacks, Shiv Sena activists vandalised the offices of television channels IBN Lokmat and IBN7 in Mumbai and Pune and beat up journalists. An IBN outdoor broadcast van was also attacked.

The attacks followed IBN reports criticising Bal Thackeray, the founder and supreme chief of Shiv Sena, a major political party in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra whose stated ideology revolves around the protection of Maharashtra interests and pride.

"It is shocking and disturbing that, in a country with deeply rooted democratic institutions, such a brazen political attack on a media outlet can occur. In order to be able to practise their profession, journalists must be free of harassment and intimidation," said IPI Director David Dadge. "I would call on political parties to respect freedom of the press and I would encourage the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Nikhil Wagle, editor of the new 24-hour Marathi news and current affairs channel IBN Lokmat, was specifically targeted in the attacks.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who confirmed that the attackers were Shiv Sainiks, or Shiv Sena 'warriors', said the attacks were provoked by Nikhil Wagle's consistent use of inappropriate language and calling Bal Thackeray an "old man." Wagle stated that IBN Lokmat's reports might have been critical of Thackeray, but in no way abusive. Sanjay Raut is also the editor of the party's newspaper "Saamna".

Following the attacks, police arrested 23 persons suspected of involvement. The suspects remain in custody pending trial. They are expected to go to court tomorrow, 25 November.

Condemning the attack, Maharashtra's Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. Following pressure from local journalists and editors, Chavan also pledged to look into their demand that bail be denied to those arrested on charges of attacking journalists.

All of India's major political parties except Shiv Sena have condemned the attacks.

The Editors' Guild of India called the incident an "attack on the entire journalistic community, their rights to expression" and "a vicious and savage assault on all norms of civilized behaviour."

"The Hindu" Editor N. Ravi, who is also an IPI Board Member and Chairperson of the IPI Indian National Committee, said: "It is to be hoped that the visible outrage over the IBN Lokmat attacks generates enough momentum to change this culture of impunity for attacks on journalists and creative people, and that the government of Maharashtra, the police and the administrative machinery stick to their declared intent of bringing to bear the full force of the law against the attackers."

This is not the first time that Shiv Sena activists have attacked the media. "Court cases tend to go on for ages," CNN-IBN Mumbai Bureau Chief Rohit Chandavarkar complained to IPI in a telephone conversation following the 20 November attack.

In August 2004, Nikhil Wagle, then owner and editor of the Mumbai-based Marathi daily "Mahanagar", was beaten up severely and had his face blackened with engine oil, allegedly by Shiv Sena activists. The attackers said that Wagle had made derogatory remarks about Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane. Two of Wagle's colleagues were also beaten up in the incident.

In February 2006, Shiv Sainiks armed with hockey sticks and canes tried to enter the office of the Zee News Marathi channel, protesting against a satirical skit about the Thackerays. When a journalist tried to intervene, the Sainiks destroyed the security cabin and left without entering the main office. Following the attack, local news reported Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray as saying: "The Marathi channel showed a play making fun of Uddhav, Raj and me. That's why Shiv Sainiks ransacked the Zee office. I am proud of the Sainiks and let it continue in this manner."

More recently, in August 2007, the Mumbai office of the weekly "Outlook" was ransacked by nearly a dozen Sainiks, who barged in asking for the editor and went on a rampage, damaging office equipment and threatening the staff. "Outlook" had included Bal Thackeray in a list of 100 villains of India in its 60th anniversary of Indian independence issue.
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