Dangerous pursuit: In India, journalists who cover corruption may pay with their lives


Since 1992, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been keeping a record of atrocities committed against journalists in India. During this time CPJ has recorded 27 cases of journalists murdered in direct retaliation for their work. More than half of those killed reported regularly on corruption, crime and politics – three beats often closely intertwined. This has created a challenging environment for small-town journalists and those reporting on corruption, who are often more vulnerable to attack and whose legitimacy is questioned when they are threatened or killed.

Small-town journalists (even if a handful work for big media) often find themselves alone and abandoned when trouble strikes. In the three case studies this report focuses on – and in CPJ’s list of 27 press murders – it is hard to find a single reporter who was working for an English outlet of a large corporate media house in a big city.

An overwhelmed justice system, lack of media solidarity and a culture of impunity only add to the problems, leaving the country’s press vulnerable to threats and attacks. CPJ has found that while it is important for governments to ensure that journalists can safely carry out their work, media organisations play an essential role too, especially in protecting freelancers and local journalists. Apart from highlighting the gap in security, this report includes recommendations for the central government, the Central Bureau of Investigation, state governments, and the media.


  1. The sheer size of India – with a population of 1.2 billion spread over 29 states and seven union territories – coupled with a decentralised system of government adds to the challenge of securing justice. The states exercise jurisdiction over law and order, complicating efforts to ensure a nationwide response to anti-press violence.

  2. In September 2015, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) admitted to the Supreme Court that it was overworked and understaffed. The bureau was investigating more than 1,200 cases and had 9,000 pending in court.

  3. In addition, close to 16 per cent of bureau posts (around 724) were vacant. Government data show that there were more than 31 million cases in total pending in India’s court system at the end of 2013.

  4. Since 1992, when CPJ began keeping records, over 40 journalists were killed in India. Of these, 27 were killed in direct retaliation for their work. There have been no convictions so far. The CPJ is still investigating an additional 25 cases to determine whether the journalists were killed for their work.

  5. According to CPJ research, 89 per cent of journalists murdered worked in the print media, and 56 per cent covered corruption.

  6. Uttar Pradesh accounted for more than 70 per cent of the total recorded attacks on journalists in India in 2014.

  7. In February 2015, a coalition of media organisations and press freedom groups signed on to the ACOS (A Culture of Safety) Alliance. The alliance includes guidelines and commitments for freelancers and organisations. More than 65 organisations from several countries have joined the alliance, but so far India is not represented.

  8. Between March 2007 and April 1, 2016, at least 58 activists – those who regularly file requests under the Right to Information Act – have been killed, and more than 250 have been harassed or assaulted.


Sumit Galhotra, CPJ’s Asia Program senior research associate

Raksha Kumar, freelance journalist

With a Foreword by P. Sainath


Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York


01 Jan, 2016