Editors’ Guild, IWPC, Press Club of India and INC condemn FIRs against journalists
The sedition cases lodged against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and senior journalists are ridiculous and absurd, held the Editors’ Guild, Press Club of India, IWPC and the INC
Media bodies on Friday strongly condemned the filing of FIRs against senior editors and journalists for their reporting on the farmers' tractor rally and the ensuing violence here on Republic Day, saying it was an attempt to "browbeat" and "intimidate" the media.
In a statement, the Editors Guild of India demanded that such FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report without fear and with freedom.
It said journalists have been specifically targeted for reporting the accounts pertaining to the death of one of the protestors on their personal social media handles as well as those of the publications they lead and represent.
"It must be noted that on the day of the protest and high action, several reports were emerging from eyewitnesses on the ground as well as from police, and therefore it was only natural for journalists to report all the details as they emerged. This is in line with established norms of journalistic practice," the Guild said.
The Editors Guild said it "strongly condemns the intimidating manner in the way in which the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Police" have registered FIRs against senior editors and journalists (including current and former office-bearers of EGI) for reporting on the farmers' protest rallies and the ensuing violence that took place in the national capital on January 26.
The FIRs allege that the tweets were intentionally malicious and were the reason for the desecration of the Red Fort, the Guild noted, asserting that nothing can be further from truth.
"On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRs, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media," the Guild said.
That the FIRs have been booked under a total of 10 different provisions, including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, is further disturbing, it said.
"This targeting of journalists grievously violates and tramples on every value that our democratic republic stands for. It is intended to grievously hurt the media and prevent it from working as an independent watchdog of Indian democracy," the statement said.
"We demand that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report without fear and with freedom," the Guild said.
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also slammed the UP government for registering FIRs against journalists and a politician who allegedly tweeted false news on January 26 on the violence which occurred during the tractor march.
In a statement released on Twitter, Priyanka Gandhi said,"It's dangerous that the BJP government is threatening journalists and public representative by registering FIRs. The respect of democratic values is the responsibility of the government. Creating an atmosphere of fear in a democracy is like poison."
The MP and journalists have been booked under sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (Criminal Intimidation), 505(2) (Statements conducing to public mischief), 124-A (Sedition), 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and 120-B (Punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The Guild also reiterated its earlier demand that the higher judiciary takes serious cognizance of the fact that several laws such as a sedition are often used to impede freedom of speech, and issue guidelines to ensure that "wanton use of such laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press". The Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC) also "unequivocally" condemned the Uttar Pradesh Police's decision to file an FIR for sedition against Mrinal Pande, founder president of the IWPC, along with several leading journalists, allegedly because they shared "unverified" news during the farmers tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day. In a statement, the IWPC said it believes that the charges against Pande, who has been the editor of several leading news publications in the country, "smack of a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the situation". "It is an attempt to browbeat the media and push it to fall in line," the IWPC said. To attribute malafide intent against Pande and the other journalists charged is a "ham handed attempt at besmirching their reputation", it said.
The Press Club of India said it is shocked to learn that UP and MP police have lodged FIRs against respected journalists, and others, on various counts of breach of criminal law, including sedition. "We call upon the authorities in Lucknow and Bhopal to retract their vile move against well-known and respected journalists. We also call upon the Union Home Ministry to reassess the situation and tender the counsel of caution to the UP and the MP governments," the Press Club said. "Anything less will be a willful tampering with the tenets of democracy. It will also be seen as a move to muzzle the media. We urge the government not to drag journalists in its ongoing actions in relation to protesting farmers," it said. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and six journalists have been booked by the Noida Police for sedition, among other charges, over the violence during the farmers' tractor rally in Delhi, officials said on Thursday. The journalists named in the FIR are Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath. An unidentified person has also been named in the FIR. Madhya Pradesh police have also filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Tharoor and the six journalists over their 'misleading' tweets on the violence during the farmers' tractor rally in Delhi.
BJP governments at the Centre and in the states are resorting not just to threats, intimidation and coercion of journalists but they have exceeded the coercive provisions of the Press Act of 1910 and the Rowlatt Act of 1919, said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala on Saturday while condemning the FIRs lodged in BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and several senior journalists.
The FIR filed against senior Journalists & Editors and a Congress MP is a clear cut instance of strangulating Democracy by the BJP and its leaders. ‘Either you should be with us, or we will use state machinery to harass and bulldoze you’ appears the policy thoroughly embedded in Modi Govt’s DNA, he added.
The bedrock of BJP’s ‘New India’ is based on creating an atmosphere of fear by systematically targeting its detractors and labelling all dissenting voices as ‘Anti-National’. No segment of the society, be it Farmers, Youth, Dalits, Tribals, Women or any common citizen with a mindful alternate view has been spared by this concerted modus operendi of the PM, HM and various BJP CMs- especially Shri Adityanath of UP. The entire nation has witnessed how Ministers in the Modi Government have repeatedly spewed venom against the lakhs of farmers who have been protesting in a largely peaceful manner since the last 70 days.
Dismantling that side of the fourth pillar – the media – which does not toe the slated line of the BJP, while protecting the one which does, exposes BJP’s utter hypocrisy.
The Indian National Congress strongly condemns the FIR against Senior Editors and a Congress MP, which is nothing but another step in the direction of criminal intimidation of dissent, taken by this tyrannical Government. We demand that the same be quashed forthright, he said.