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Law should not be misused for muzzling media

Law should not be misused for muzzling media

The tendency to misuse the legal system to prevent independent journalism is a dangerous sign. In the aftermath of the clashes in the capital city on Republic day, one must suspect that there is an attempt to suppress media as done with protestors. The Editors' Guild of India, realizing the motive behind it, condemned the FIRs against senior journalists from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Cases have been registered against several journalists who tweeted that the farmer who died on the day, was shot dead by the police. Once the Delhi Police released CCTV footage as evidence that the deceased died after the tractor lost control and overturned and not by gunshots, the journalists clarified their tweets or removed them. The matter must have been closed there. Instead, cases have been filed against several journalists and politicians, including Shashi Tharoor. There is no explanation for this other than the prevention of anti-government reportage. Firstly, the reports of firing were stated as based on eye-witnesses. True, the media indeed must cross-check the news they receive in sensitive situations. However, it is not unusual to make mistakes when updating evolving events live. In practice, such news is published and then edited and corrected if proved false. Otherwise, it would become to report an event. But action on the reports should be based on the judgment whether they are based on conviction or with bad intention. The legal proceedings again journalists are hence totally unjustified.

However, governments of the two states have filed serious charges for this reportage including sedition, promoting enmity between different groups and criminal conspiracy. The government's concerns do not, however, lie in the maintenance of order or peace as proved by the lax attitude taken against those like Kapil Mishra who called for violence amidst the anti-CAA protests compared against the action taken against journalists for a few tweets which circulated for a short while. The attempt is to silence disagreeing voices, even if truthful, and to strengthen the narrative by the pro-government media. Amidst this, what is truth or lies becomes a matter of lease concern. The charges against the stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, charged for allegedly making fun of Hindu gods illustrate who makes a narrative that harms communal amity. Though eye-witnesses and the police deny such jokes, Faruqui and his friends were arrested. They have been denied bail several times now. Recently, the Bihar government released a circular stating that those who criticize ministers and officials on social media will face a legal action. Also reacall the move in Kerala to pass a similar law under the Police Act last November. Both the states and the Centre, are adopting the same anti-citizen approach in restricting democratic rights and media freedom.

The press must collect news and report it. It is not the journalist's duty to check if the news is pro or against the government. However, media persons are attacked for this - and it is not communal harmony or the incitement of enmity between groups that prompts action by the governments. Siddique Kappan, who went to report on the Hathras gang rape in Uttar Pradesh, is still in jail. Kanpur Police took a case against three journalists for reporting how children were forced to brave the severe cold in minimal clothes at a yoga event. Last year, the Indian Prime Minister had claimed that no foreign soldiers had entered Indian territory. When PTI proved through official interviews that this was not true, the displeasure of the government turned to that news agency. It is not in the interest of the nation that fake news which is pro-government faces no action while anti-government news faces legal hurdles even when they are true. The colonial laws of sedition employed by the British forces against freedom fighters and more severe laws like the UAPA are now being invoked as obstacles before ordinary journalists. This undemocratic hindrance ought to be removed.

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TAGS:journalistsAction against Shashi Tharoormedia muzzlingTweets
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