Stop criminalising media, protect journalism: PUCL

The Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties condemns attacks on journalists in India

attack on mediaImage: Karnika Kohli/The Wire

One of the worst attacks on Indian journalists continues, as scores are now being hounded for their reportage on the ground realities from across the country. Their reports highlight outcomes of the national lockdown that was aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic but had also unleashed many hardships for lakhs of citizens. Journalists have been reporting from the ground, on how the lockdown has pushed many into abject poverty and has put migrant workers, farmers, fishworkers, marginalised communities including dalits and minorities at risk of starvation, homelessness, and ill health. 

Journalists have also been attacked for covering riots and violence that has targeted minority communities. Senior journalists have been named in FIRs and summoned to join police investigations, because they reported on the original events, attacks, and situations that are a matter of public record. Statements of solidarity have been issued from time to time but not one line has been issued by the Ministry of information and broadcasting. 

The threat to the media in India is ongoing, even as journalists continue to report at risk to their own lives. The latest attack has been on Supriya Sharma, Executive Editor of the Scroll news portal. She, and the Scroll ,who were booked under various charges including the SC/ST Act, while reporting on poverty and hunger in Varanasi during the lockdown.

The Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called this a “state attack on the media” and condemned the attempt at “criminalizing the writings” of Sharma. The PUCL stated, “The criminal provisions slapped on the Scroll journalists are bizarre and do not even apply to the complaint made by the aggrieved individual. These are: carrying out negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life (Sec 269 IPC), defamation through print (Sec 501 IPC), intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a SC or ST within public view (Sec 3 (1)(r)) and abuses any member of SC/ST by caste name in public (section 3 (1)(s) of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act).”

Sharma had spoken to and written about the challenges faced by Varanasi resident Mala Devi, who later denied telling the reporter that she had gone hungry during the lockdown. Mala Devi then lodged an FIR accusing Sharma of misreporting. In the FIR Mala Devi states that she is a sanitation worker with the Varanasi Municipality, and not a domestic worker as Sharma reported. 

PUCL states that it is “very conceivable that Mala Devi, being connected to the Municipal body, can be pressured to state anything on threat of losing her job.”  The Union adds that the FIR against Sharma is an attempt to “harass her via the police machinery as she showed the failure of the state to protect livelihoods and provide for rations in the Prime Minister’s constituency. It is well known by now, that nobody is allowed to be critical of the PM or show his constituency in a bad light.”

PUCL has also listed more cases of journalists being harassed which it states “exposes the motivated nature and political intention behind the prosecutions. These include police action against senior journalists and writers, including Vinod Dua; Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire; Aakar Patel; Dhaval Patel, the editor of a Gujrati news portal, Face of Nation; Mahender Singh Manral, an Indian Express reporter and many more.”

PUCL has expressed concern at the “concerted and continuous attack on journalism” and condemned “attempts to intimidate media persons, thereby stifling the media from playing its role as an independent and critical watchdog of liberty, democracy and governance.”  The complete PUCL statement may be read here:




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