The four people arrested for circulating a video clip of a mentally disturbed woman, who claimed to be in love with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, were sent to judicial custody for a fortnight on Sunday.
While Editors’ Guild of India has condemned the arrests and several lawyers criticised the conduct of the police as both ‘illegal’ and unwarranted, Kanojia’s wife moved the Supreme Court on Monday, which agreed to hear the matter on Tuesday.
Even as journalists across the country were voicing their outrage, there hasn’t been a squeak in Lucknow or elsewhere in the state. Journalist bodies in Lucknow have no plans to oppose the police action as a senior journalist declared in a WhatsApp group that ‘UP Journalists support police action’.
Vice-president IFWJ and President of the Uttar Pradesh State Accreditation Committee Hemant Tiwari quipped, “What Prashant Kanojia wrote was not journalistic work. That was a willful attempt to defame the Chief Minister. And any person doing this should be punished. One can debate on the nature of penalties and sections mentioned in the FIR but can anyone defend what he wrote against Yogi ?”
To put things in perspective, the apparently mentally disturbed lady in the video tells media persons in Lucknow that she wanted a life-long commitment from the chief minister. She also claimed that she has been having video chats with the CM for the past one year.
Kanojia had re-tweeted the video and commented, ‘Ishq Chupaye Nahin Chupti, Yogi Ji” ( Love has ways of getting revealed). The legal debate is whether this comment can be construed as ‘defamation’ in the first place. Several lawyers have come forward to argue that even if it is construed as defamation, the IPC section does not allow the police to arrest the accused. A case needs to be filed in court. The other section invoked by Hazratganj Police is under section 66 of the IT Act, which too is not applicable in this case, the lawyers maintain.
The debate on social media is whether this is becoming the new normal and whether flippant comments on social media would now invite arrests, imprisonment and legal harassment.
Journalists in Lucknow have a different opinion. “If administration persecutes a journalist for writing against the government or exposing its misdeeds, I would be the first person to defend him and fight his case tooth and nail. But if there is a willful defamation, then sorry I am not in favour of defending that person,” Tiwari said adding that he did not support media associations holding protests.
While the case involves larger questions related to freedom of speech and expression, there is another reason why journalists in Lucknow are silent. Uttar Pradesh has a history of pliant media succumbing to the pressure of government. There is always a fear of newspaper or channel losing out on government advertisements if they try to rub the government on the wrong side. Old timers recall how the Director Information in the UP Government used to suggest the day’s lead story and how the Resident Editor of an English daily would oblige.
There are instances where newspapers lost advertisements because they did not publish the then chief minister Mayawati’s story on the front page. A Deputy Director in the Department of Information and Publicity used to prepare a list of newspapers, which did not carry the CM’s story on Page one and their advertisements were slashed.
The contract of a Chief Staff Writer of a English newspaper was not extended because he wrote a report critical of Wheat Purchase Centres when Rajnath Singh was Chief Minister. The then CM had then expressed his annoyance to the newspaper following which the journalist’s contract was not renewed.
This trend continued. In Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure when a reporter of a leading daily wrote a story on the family feud and quoted a party MLA drawing a parallel between Akhilesh and Aurangzeb, the then CM got angry and stopped advertisements to that paper.
The common refrain in Lucknow is do not write against the government because it could be vindictive.
“Media is no longer the dog that bites, but it has become a lap dog now,” a senior journalist said. “No one is going to stick his neck out because they know he will face the wrath of administration if he stages protest against government,” he said