15 June 2020
It’s not just the COVID-19 virus but also the State that targeted journalists during the national lockdown with arrests, custodial torture, FIRs and show-cause notices, according to a report that documented at least 55 media persons facing the brunt for their reportage.
The report ‘India: Media’s Crackdown during COVID-19 Lockdown’ said that 55 journalists “faced arrest, registration of FIRs, summons or show-causes notices, physical assaults, alleged destruction of properties and threats for reportage or exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the national lockdown” between March 25 and May 31.
Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 11 journalists facing action followed by Jammu and Kashmir, five in Himachal Pradesh and four each in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha and Maharashtra, according to the report prepared by a private watchdog ‘Rights and Risks Analysis Group’ (RRAG).
Two journalists faced trouble in Punjab, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala each while one person each from the media were targeted in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Nagaland and Telangana. Altogether, journalists faced action in 19 states and one union territory. India has 28 states and eight union territories.
RRAG Director Suhas Chakma alleged that the Centre from the outset of the pandemic sought to suppress press freedom under the garb of deliberate or inaccurate reporting on COVID-19. However, he said, the Supreme Court refused to interfere when the Centre suggested so.
The cases were filed for “reporting starvation faced by the migrant workers, the failure of the administration to supply rations to migrant workers…mismanagement and negligence at quarantine centres, or simply reporting a minister following the suggestions of astrologers or using certain terms against the ruling party or criticising Chief Ministers”, the report said.
FIRs were registered against at least 22 journalists under the Indian Penal Code, Information Technology Act, Disaster Management Act, Motors Vehicles Act and Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
At least 10 journalists were arrested on charges of spreading misinformation and violating lockdown rules and for reportage exposing corruption and shortage of food and personal protective equipment (PPE). Four others, including Arnab Goswami and Vinod Dua, were given protection from arrest by the Supreme Court.
Summons or show-cause notices were issued to seven journalists while at least nine journalists were subjected to beating, including two in police custody, the report said. Gujarat witnessed an online portal Face of Nation’s Editor Dhaval Patel being arrested and booked for sedition on charges of publishing a speculative report on possible change in leadership in the state due to criticism over rising number of Covid-19 cases.
In Punjab, the report said, Jai Singh Chibber of Punjabi Jagran was booked by the Punjab Police for writing a news report about an unnamed Congress minister following the suggestions of astrologers.
The Wire Editor Siddharth Varadarajan faced an FIR for his website reporting about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath attending a public religious event in Ayodhya on March 25 after the announcement of the lockdown.
While one journalist was held hostage by a village head in Odisha, the house of another journalist was allegedly demolished because of his report” on an MLA in Telangana. A woman journalist in Arunachal Pradesh was threatened for publishing a story ‘wildlife hunting on spike’ during the lockdown, the report added. (ENDS)