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Media bodies slam authorities for 'curtailing' press freedom

PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 15-05-2020 18:29 IST | Created: 15-05-2020 18:29 IST
Media bodies slam authorities for 'curtailing' press freedom

Media bodies on Friday raised concerns over incidents of alleged misuse of the law by authorities in India to "intimidate" journalists and "curtail" press freedom. The Press Council of India on Friday expressed concern over the alleged threat of criminal prosecution and questioning of an Indian Express journalist by the Delhi police and asked its commissioner to submit a report on the matter.

Since the matter affects the free functioning of the press, while taking suo-motu cognizance of the matter, a report on facts of the case is being called for from the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, the print media watchdog said in a statement. The Press Club of India, meanwhile, condemned the slapping of sedition charges on an editor of a Gujarati news portal and the reported filing of 10 FIRs against six journalists in Himachal Pradesh, saying such actions are a "blot on our democratic aspirations".

In a statement, the Press Club of India said going on the basis of a "string of seemingly malafide actions" against journalists by BJP-run states and the Centre-controlled Union Territories, it calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda to step in to bring "sanity to the proceedings". The Vienna-headquartered International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, also expressed "grave concern over the misuse of the law by authorities in India to intimidate journalists and curtail press freedom".

"The rapid decline in India's press freedom is alarming," IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R Prasad said. The Indian government has resorted to various tactics to prevent independent media from criticizing the government and reporting about the pandemic, the IPI alleged.

The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday had condemned the slapping of sedition charges on the editor of the Gujarati news portal and the Indian Express journalist being asked by the Delhi Police to join the probe into Tablighi Jamaat leader Maulana Saad's audio clip, saying the state and central governments should desist from misusing the law to threaten free press. In a statement, the Guild had said it notes with concern a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country.

The Guild had first highlighted the incident of Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of a Gujarati news portal, ''Face of Nation'', being booked for sedition and detained by the state police on May 11 for publishing a report suggesting the possibility of a leadership change in the state due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases. The second instance of "egregious and high-handed action" has come from Delhi Police, it had said.

"On May 10, the Delhi Police sent a notice to Mahender Singh Manral, Special Correspondent, The Indian Express, through the City Editor and Chief Reporter, The Indian Express, requiring the journalist, who had reported that police investigations found the possibility of the audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad, being doctored, to join a probe on this matter on May 10," the statement said. "While Manral wasn't charged under any law, he was threatened that failure to join the probe could result in legal action under Section 174 of the IPC with punishment of a prison term and fine," it had said.

The Press Club of India had also condemned the questioning of Indian Express journalist by the Delhi Police. The Press Club of India, in its statement on Friday, said the latest media victims of deplorable police actions "evidently in cahoots with the ruling party- emerge from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh". The Press Club said in Himachal Pradesh, six journalists from various districts of the state have reportedly had as many as ten FIRs registered against them.

"The reason for this unwanted police attention is that the journalists in question have reported on the plight of migrant workers and on the shortcomings of the state authorities in dealing with relief in the fight against COVID-19," it said. These are legitimate areas of enquiry for journalists and examples of high-handed and irregular behaviour by those in authority, the Press Club said.

"Before these cases in Gujarat and HP, the administration and police in Uttar Pradesh, J&K and Delhi had already presented shocking examples of suppression of the media so that their questionable actions do not get to be known to the wider world," it said. "We condemn such actions. They are a blot on our democratic aspirations," the statement said.


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