IMPHAL: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) in a press release expressed its grave concern over rising cases of state governments intimidating, harassing and detaining journalists from reporting the truth by misusing the sedition law as well as Disaster Management Act. The IJU demands authorities in Gujarat, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh refrain from subverting press freedom, respect the citizen’s right to information and drop all charges against journalists, who are risking their health and lives to report on Covid-19.
The cases include: Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of Gujarati website, Face of Nation, detained by Ahmedabad Crime Branch on 11 May following an FIR being filed against him under IPC Section 124(a) and DMA for his article of May 7, which said Rajya Sabha MP Mansukh Mandaviya was being called by New Delhi to discuss a change in guard (Chief Minister Vijay Rupani) for his failure in handling the Covid-19. Worse, Patel was being singled out for his report whereas other media outlets had run it too.
The Delhi police summoned Indian Express reporter Mahender Singh Manral for questioning on his report of May 9 that an initial probe by Crime Branch had found an audio clip in which Tablighi Jamaat head Maulana Saad is purportedly heard asking his followers not to observe social distancing, may have been doctored. Claiming it to be factually incorrect and purely conjectural imagination, the police emailed a legal notice to the daily, summoned Manral ‘or face legal action amounting to fine and jail term’. The daily has stood by Manral’s story, added the statement.
A detailed report in Newslaundry reveals since lockdown FIRs were filed against six journalists in Himachal Pradesh for their questioning the authorities’ preparedness to meet pandemic challenge. Three FIRs against Om Sharma of daily Divya Himachal for his reportage and posts on Facebook on April 27 on administration’s confusion on curfew timing and opening of shops on April 26 for sharing a report of Hindi daily Amar Ujala on FB, which claimed government had ordered businesses to shut for a few months in case any employee tested positive and on March 29 for going live on FB in Baddi town, Solan district, showing dozens of migrant workers protesting at the roadside for not getting rations.
Sharma was booked under section 54 of DMA, punishment for false warning, 4 sections of IPC 182 (false information), 188 (disobedience to a public servant’s order), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of a dangerous disease,) and 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others). Three FIRs were filed against Jagat Bains, News18 Himachal reporter in nearby Nalagarh for revealing gaping holes in government’s lockdown strategy; 5 FIRs against journalist Ashwani Saini in Mandi district for reporting administration’s failure to supply rations to migrant workers; two FIRs against Vishal Anand in Dalhousie, associated with a national news channel for misrepresentation; FIR against Punjab Kesari’s Somdiv Sharma in Manali for report on administration’s laxity in quarantining interstate travellers; FIR against Dainik Bhaskar’s Gauri Shankar in Kullu district after local SDM termed his story on famished migrant workers, as “fake news.”
In a statement, IJU President Geetartha Pathak and former member Press Council of India and Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit said all cases reveal a common thread i.e. unabashed arm-twisting of journalists by authorities so as not to cover-up their shoddy handling of the pandemic challenge, terming reports as ‘fake news,’ and misusing DMA, Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and IPC to gag the media. The IJU demands governments to drop all charges against the journalists, let them do their duty and instead set their house in order, said in a press release of IJU.