No democracy is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media

Editors Guild, Press Club of India express concern on media being blamed and intimidated, for reporting Covid-19 facts

Editors GuildImage Courtesy:

The Editors Guild of India has expressed concerns that the media is being blamed for the migrant worker exodus and panic that was seen on national highways across the country recently. The guild was reacting to the statement made to the Supreme Court, on behalf of the Government of India that blamed the media for the migrant workers’ mass movement in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.

While the SC had observed that it does “not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic,” it did direct “the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.” 

The Editors’ Guild has responded to this saying that while it held the SC in high respect it found such this advice “gratuitous and unnecessary.” It added that the government’s statement blaming the news media for the migrant workers’ mass movement were ‘deeply perturbing’. 

The government in a recent statement had said media outlets were causing panic among migrant workers leading to their mass movement after the sudden announcement of  the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Blaming the media at this juncture can only undermine the current work being done by it under trying circumstances. Such charges can also obstruct in the process of dissemination of news during an unprecedented crisis facing the country. No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media,” read the Editors’ Guild statement.

The  Press Club of India has also reacted strongly to the Union government’s plea in the SC. The PCI stated that this, “borders on censorship and we forcefully reject such an approach and express our sharp criticism of it.” 

The PCI stated that evidently, the Supreme Court was also not convinced, and had asked the government to make its version available to  the media. “This thankfully makes facts disseminated by the government easily accessible. The top court was careful not to stop the media from doing its work,” it stated.

According to the PCI, the media had done its job well and taken personal risks to bring “facts to the notice of society.” 

The Editors Guild  also reacted sharply to charges being pressed against the web portal The Wire’s founder-editor Siddharth Vardarajan, and it said, “a police action in the form of an FIR under criminal laws at this stage is an overreaction and an act of intimidation.”

The details were posted by The Wire itself: “On Wednesday, April 1, the Uttar Pradesh Police in Faizabad registered an FIR against The Wire on the complaint of an individual under Sections 188 and 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code. Section 188 refers to disobedience of an order issued by a public servant and 505 (2) to “statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”.”

Standing in solidarity with the portal, the Press Club also condemned the Uttar Pradesh Government’s FIR against The Wire and called it “reprehensible.” “This media outlet had merely reported that UP CM Adityanath had presided over a religious ceremony in Ayodhya recently with a large body of people in attendance after the national lockdown announced by the PM,” said the PCI statement. “It is not expected that they threaten the media,” the statement added.

The founding editors of The Wire had issued this statement in response to the FIR:

Statement by the Founding Editors of The Wire

We have come to know through social media that an FIR has been registered under Section 188 and 505(2) of the IPC against The Wire by the UP Police in Faizabad.

A bare perusal of the FIR shows that the offences invoked are not even remotely made out and that it is aimed at stifling legitimate expression and factual information. The UP police seems to think its job is to go after those who criticise the CM. The registration of an FIR is a blatant attack on the freedom of the press.

The government of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh does not seem to have learnt anything despite the strictures passed against it by the Supreme Court in June 2019 when the court ordered the release of a journalist whom the state had illegally arrested for a tweet. The right to liberty is a fundamental right and non-negotiable, the court had said.

What the FIR says we have stated – that Chief Minister Adityanath attended a public religious event in Ayodhya on March 25 after the Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown to deal with the coronavirus challenge – is a matter of record.


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