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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 26 New Delhi June 15, 2019

Media under Attack

Monday 17 June 2019, by SC

EDITORIAL

Lately, the media has become the target of assault by the executive. The cases of NOIDA-based journalist Prashant Kanojia and the editor and head of the NOIDA-based TV channel, Nation Live, are clear pointers to the manner in which the UP Government is seeking to muzzle press freedom since Kanojia and two journalists, Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla, were arrested on the ground that Kanojia was accused of uploading a post on UP CM Yogi Adityanath on the social media whereas the Nation Live editor and head were charged with having aired a video on the same UP CM.

The FIR against Kanojia was based on the journalist sharing on Twitter the video of a woman claiming a “relationship” with the UP CM while the TV channel had broadcast a video on the same issue. Taking strong exception to the arbitrary misuse of law, the Editors Guild of India justifiably condemned the police action without in any way upholding the accuracy of the woman’s claims. It had no hesitation in denouncing the move to register the case of criminal defamation against the journalists; the EGI further underscored that in order “to give the police powers to arrest, provisions of Section 66 of the IT Act” were “also added”.

While reiterating its demand to decriminalise the defamation law, the Guild also observed that the misuse of the law in this case, as well as in a recent case in Karnataka, “goes way beyond criminal defamation as many IT Act and Indian Penal Code provisions have been invoked in what looks like a a motivated and vindictive action”.

The Guild’s contention was upheld by the Supreme Court in the Kanojia case. Not only did it promptly release Kanojia, it also stressed that the UP Government’s dilatory tactics in demanding that Kanojia’s wife approach the Allababad High Court for bail was a “glaring case of deprivation of liberty” while decrying a magistrate’s decision to remand Kanojia to custody until June 22.

Even as Kanojia is released, the bail plea in the cases of Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla is to be heard before the court of a district judge in NOIDA tomorrow. However, The Times of India has emphasised that the “coercive actions on Hindi news channel Nation Live’s honchos were no less arbitrary, not to mention pulling the entire channel off the air”, adding: “Perhaps the BJP seniors should give the UP CM some history lessons on how bad the Emergency was.”

It also suggests that

As in ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan’s case, the SC can make the police and governments pay hefty compensation for unlawful arrests and demand action against erring cops.

The Apex Court’s unambiguous verdict in the Kanojia case must be heartily welcomed as it upholds the right to free speech and expression the governments in power, regardless of their political complexion, seek to curb on partisan grounds. Here one cannot make any distinction between what the UP Police has done and what the Bengal Police did last month when it arrested a BJP youth leader for a meme mocking the State CM.

June 13 S.C.

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