Cassian Baliarsingh

Today, World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of press freedom.

On the occasion, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern over the rising cases of journalists continually being harassed, jailed, and killed across the globe.

Guterres said attacks on journalists are attacks on freedom of expression. “All our freedom depends on press freedom,” he said calling it the ‘foundation of democracy and justice’ and the ‘lifeblood of human rights.’

“But in every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack,” he added without taking the name of any specific country or state.

Meanwhile, UNESCO awarded its 2023 World Press Freedom Prize to three Iranian women, two journalists, and a human rights activist, who have been jailed.

World Press Freedom Day and Odisha

Alleged Politics of Vengeance:

The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha was recently accused of trying to suppress press freedom when a local news channel's editor Ardhendu Das was arrested by Odisha Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) for his alleged failure in making full payment for studio equipment bought from a Delhi-based firm.

His arrest allegedly came at a time when the said channel took an adversarial stand over excavations and constructions around Puri’s Jagannath Temple. The Odisha government had then faced criticisms over alleged violations of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act.

“My arrest is out of vengeance for showing the government in bad light over the Puri case. I will not bend to any pressure or threat,” Das had alleged.

BJD MP Allegedly Misbehaving with Lady Journalist:

Similarly, BJD MP and actor Anubhav Mohanty was also accused of assaulting and misbehaving with a woman journalist. The journalist, Sasmita Acharya, had narrated her ordeal to Cuttack DCP Akhilesh Singh and later alleged that attempts were being made to push the issue under the carpet.

She had also staged a dharna at Purighat police station alleging a mismatch between the FIR filed by her and the copy she got. However, both the Odisha government and the Kendrapara MP termed the accusations as false and baseless.

Alleged Misbehaviour with OTV Journalist:

In November 2019, the same BJD MP drew severe criticism from various quarters for allegedly misbehaving with an OTV journalist who approached him for his comments after a project announcement event for Baladevjew Temple at Kendrapara Collectorate.

"When I defended his allegations, he dragged me to in front of the camera and poked fun at me before urging his supporters to clap. While the State government is boasting about its push for 5T and all big concepts of good behaviour and mannerisms, it is very unfortunate for an MP of the ruling party to behave in such a way," Swain alleged.

Speaking on the incident, President of Odisha Union Of Journalists, Prasanna Mohanty said, "It is an extremely condemnable act by a people's representative. It is an act of disrespect towards journalists and the parliamentarian should apologise or else there will be protests."

Later, the MP expressed regret over the incident and said, "...I am saddened by the unfortunate incident with a journalist of OTV that took place in Kendrapara two days ago. It was neither intentional nor had I wanted this incident to happen..."