When journalists are under threat, truth is under threat. With the growth and facility of digital tools the press in India are facing legal threats more than ever before. IFF in collaboration with the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) has launched the Digital Patrakar Defence Clinic (DPDC). In this post we describe the need for DPDC, who can apply for help (quick tip: fill this form) and the pro-bono help we offer. We also indicate how journalist bodies and lawyers can collaborate with us as we scale up the clinic incrementally and responsibly!
Why has IFF started this Clinic?
We are in a nosedive on our digital rights. More often for those who speak truth to power.
India has been facing a sharp downward curve in its press freedom rankings, over the last decade, falling 20 places between 2010 (Rank 122) to 2021 (Rank 142), particularly coinciding with the rise of digital journalism. Human Rights Watch in its 2021 report has noted that several journalists faced criminal cases for reporting on Covid-19; authorities used sedition and national security laws against journalists; and India continued to lead with the largest number of internet shutdowns globally.
Journalists in India face a wide variety of threats which have increased in severity and threat levels. Threats today are often physical and beyond a rule of law framework. Threats are not only from conventional opponents (wealthy plaintiffs) but those within law enforcement, judicial and public officials. Further, such threats are not only legal, but mix with a toxic online environment, which targets working journalists. This includes revealing personal details, creation of false narratives and encouraging physical harm towards them and threatening their employers.
PEN Canada’s Report on The Use of India’s Laws to Suppress Free Speech identified overbroad censorship law and oppressive prosecution procedures as some of the key issues, and made several recommendations. To civil society members, the Report recommended continuing to pressure the government to enact free speech reforms through political engagement and strategic litigation. The Digital Patrakar Defence Clinic (“DPDC” or the “Clinic”) intends to do just that.
What are the services that we are offering?
The DPDC will provide the following types of pro bono legal assistance to individual journalists.
- Direct Legal Representation: Pro Bono direct legal representation to reporters facing immediate legal action as a consequence of their reporting.
- Pre-publication guidance: Prevention is always better than cure, and our lawyers will provide pre-publication review and guidance to journalists who are working on high-risk stories which could lead to litigation.
- Second opinions: The Clinic will provide a second opinion to journalists who already have their own legal team but require confirmation that the course of action being adopted in their case is appropriate.
- Research and drafting assistance: The centre will provide research and drafting assistance to lawyers representing individual journalists on technology related issues where we have special expertise.
- Reference and access to our network of lawyers in India: The centre will refer journalists who require legal representation before trial and appellate courts to pro bono lawyers in their city or town who can handle their case on a day to day basis.
- Practical Guides: The lawyers behind the Clinic will author and publish multiple guides and DIY advice on criminal and civil processes which are often not well explained. This will focus on explaining actual practical recommendations and then utilise social media to provide advice to media through partnerships with working journalist groups.
Note: The Clinic is not a workshop, conference or webinar. It will be conducted as a direct 1:1 consultation with our expert lawyers, where journalists can seek legal advice or receive legal representation. Journalists can also avail of the opportunity to address any general or specific legal queries that they may have related to their professional practice.
Who can avail of this service?
We use an inclusive approach to defining the word “Journalist”. The term “journalist” will carry a broad functional perspective, and will include all media workers and support staff, community media workers, cartoonists, and citizen journalists.
How can journalists make use of this Clinic?
Any journalist may fill this form. We will then reach out to them at the email address that they have provided, with the details of the zoom meeting at which our partner lawyer will be available. The journalist may then attend the zoom meeting at the appointed time, and have a direct 1:1 consultation with the expert lawyer.
The Clinic will be conducted for one hour every weekend (either Saturday or Sunday, at a time that will be announced well in advance).
The Schedule for September is as follows:
- September 5, 2021 (Sunday) - 11am-12pm with Mr. Abhinav Sekhri
- September 11, 2021 (Saturday) - 6-7pm with Ms. Sanjana Srikumar
- September 19, 2021 (Sunday) - 11am-12pm with Mr. Abhinav Sekhri
- September 25, 2021 (Saturday) - 6-7pm with Ms. Sanjana Srikumar
This schedule will regularly be updated and posted on IFF’s Twitter and Instagram handles.
If you are a media organisation that would like a clinic for your members, or have any questions, email us at [email protected]. If you are a lawyer wanting to become a part of this network get in touch over [email protected]
- Digital Patrakar Defence Clinic Registration Form (link)