Mumbai: In a first of its kind move in the country, the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on Friday passed a much-anticipated bill seeking to protect journalists and media houses from attacks, with provisions for three years' imprisonment and/or penalty.
All attacks on the media and media houses in the state shall now be treated as a "cognisable and non-bailable" offence, which shall be tried by a First Class Judicial Magistrate. It had been a long-standing demand of media persons in Maharashtra.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis introduced the bill, titled "Maharashtra Mediapersons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017", in the assembly.
It was passed without any discussion in the absence of the opposition parties on the last day of the budget session of the legislature.
Fadnavis said that due to "rampant instances" of violent attacks against media persons and damage or loss to the property of media houses, there was a strong demand to prevent such violence and recurring attacks.
"In order to effectively curb the occurrences of such incidents, protect and safeguard the media persons and their property and that of the media houses in the state, the government considered it expedient to enact a special law," Fadnavis explained.
The new act has been widely welcomed by media persons, media groups and institutions, besides the opposition parties in the state.
According to its comprehensive provisions, any person committing, abetting, instigating or provoking any violent act against media persons or media houses shall be punished with up to three years' jail term or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both.
A police officer not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (Dy.SP) shall investigate offences committed under this act against media persons or media houses, says the bill.
The offenders shall be liable to cough out compensation for the damages or losses caused to the property of the media persons or media houses, as decided by the court, and shall have to reimburse the medical expenses incurred by the media persons.
If the compensation and medical expenses are not paid, these would be recovered as arrears of land revenue, according to the bill.
The bill has clearly defined "a media institution" as "any registered newspaper establishment, news channel establishment, news-based electronic media establishment or news stations".
A "media person" has been described as a person whose principal vocation is that of a journalist, who is employed on regular or contract basis, including editor, news editor, sub-editor, reporter, correspondent, cartoonist, news photographer, television cameraman, leader-writer, feature writer, copy tester and proof reader.
"Violence" has been categorised an act which causes or may cause any harm, injury or endangering life of a media person during the discharge of his duty as a media person, or causing damage or loss of property belonging to any media person or media institution.
The bill came after a long struggle of several years by the media persons, who were at the receiving end of various anti-social, political and other groups during the course of discharging their duties.