Telecom operators have been asked to explain in 15 days what action they have taken amidst an intense campaign of threats and abuse against several senior journalists, including NDTV's Ravish Kumar, over the last week. The Controller of Communication Accounts Uttarakhand Circle, an office under the Department of Telecom in the Ministry of Communications, has sent notices to nine cellphone carriers asking them to identify those behind the campaign and stop the misuse of telecom networks.
A number of journalists, including women, have been bombarded with threats of death or physical harm, sexual assault and obscene messages on social media, instant messaging apps and phone calls since last week. A few journalists have filed police complaints and posted samples of the messages. However, the torrent of abuse is yet to subside.
In a statement issued earlier this week, the Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Club of India, and the Press Association urged the Home Ministry to act against those targeting journalists. "The phone numbers of the hate callers can be easily located and identified. Such messages have the potential of inciting hatred and invariably leading to hate crime," they said.
According to sources, the Controller of Communication Accounts Uttarakhand Circle has now asked telecom operators to identify the people sending the messages and calls and also set up helpline numbers for customer complaints about vulgar and obscene messages. It has also attached a list of numbers that are being used for the campaign along with some of the messages, with the directive.
In its World Press Freedom Index last year, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders had said that "hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies" in India.
The report ranked India 138th in the world out of 180 countries measured, down two positions since 2017 and lower than countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar. When the index was started in 2002, India was ranked 80th out of 139 countries surveyed.
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