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IFJ urges action after two media offices attacked

(IFJ/IFEX) - 19 July 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is shocked by the political intolerance on display in India, with two attacks on television studios in the country on July 16.

In the first incident, the premises of news channel Headlines Today were attacked in the capital, Delhi. The second incident took place in the distant city of Kolhapur in the western state of Maharashtra, where the studios of Zee 24 Taas, a news channel broadcasting in the local Marathi language, were ransacked as a talk show on a border dispute with the neighbouring state of Karnataka was aired.

According to reports from IFJ affiliates, a mob of 3,000 people gathered in a busy area of Delhi on the evening of July 16 and sought to force its way into the Headlines Today building. Lifts were disabled and stairways blocked by security personnel, preventing the crowd from entering the office on an upper floor. Attackers caused extensive damage in the building foyer and paralysed all routes of entry and exit for more than two hours. A Headlines Today cameraman was assaulted and some workers at commercial facilities in the building were injured.

IFJ sources report the mob consisted of volunteers and leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist body, some of whose high-placed office-holders were recently implicated in media reports, including one by Headlines Today, for alleged involvement in bombings across the country.

The Headlines Today broadcast on July 14 relied on hidden cameras and the so-called "sting" technique. Its basic message underlined the findings of several news reports in the daily press in recent days, notably in the "Mail Today", a daily newspaper owned by the same media group as Headlines Today. According to sources, the offices of the "Mail Today", which are located in the same building, could also have been the target of the attack.

"The IFJ is shocked that an incident of this sort could happen in Delhi, so close to the administrative hub of India's capital," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"We call upon authorities in Delhi to bring to account all those who led and participated in this incident. With the more prominent leaders of this attack on press freedom already identified by witnesses, there is no excuse for inaction."

The IFJ is encouraged by the virtually unanimous condemnation of the incident by all concerned bodies, including the Delhi Union of Journalists, a constituent unit of IFJ affiliate, the Indian Journalists' Union (IJU).

The second incident in Kolhapur involved cadre of the Shiv Sena, a far-right nationalist grouping that once was the leading partner in the ruling coalition in Maharashtra state. Maharashtra has long been involved in a dispute with neighbouring Karnataka state over the disposition of the district of Belgaum, which it claims.

The attack on the Zee 24 Taas studios occurred at 9:45 pm, during the broadcast of a talk show which included spokesmen for the case of Karnataka.

Five people were injured, including two news staff. The IFJ understands that 11 of the political cadre involved in the attack surrendered to police the following day and were released on bail fixed at a nominal INR 15,000 (US$ 315).

"The IFJ urges authorities in Maharashtra to pursue those responsible for this outrageous attack on free speech," Park said. "Yielding to the political convenience of the moment could have serious consequences for the future of media freedom in India."

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