'An attempt to browbeat media': Media bodies slam FIRs against journalists over R-Day violence

NEW DELHI: Media bodies on Friday strongly condemned the filing of FIRs against senior editors and journalists for their reporting on the farmers’ tractor rally and the ensuing violence here on Republic Day, saying it was an attempt to “browbeat” and “intimidate” the media.

In a statement, the Editors Guild of India demanded that such FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report without fear and with freedom.

It said journalists have been specifically targeted for reporting the accounts pertaining to the death of one of the protestors on their personal social media handles as well as those of the publications they lead and represent.

“It must be noted that on the day of the protest and high action, several reports were emerging from eyewitnesses on the ground as well as from police, and therefore it was only natural for journalists to report all the details as they emerged. This is in line with established norms of journalistic practice,” the Guild said.

The Editors Guild said it “strongly condemns the intimidating manner in the way in which the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Police” have registered FIRs against senior editors and journalists (including current and former office-bearers of EGI) for reporting on the farmers’ protest rallies and the ensuing violence that took place in the national capital on January 26.

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The FIRs allege that the tweets were intentionally malicious and were the reason for the desecration of the Red Fort, the Guild noted, asserting that nothing can be further from truth.

“On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRs, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media,” the Guild said.

That the FIRs have been booked under a total of 10 different provisions, including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, is further disturbing, it said.

“This targeting of journalists grievously violates and tramples on every value that our democratic republic stands for. It is intended to grievously hurt the media and prevent it from working as an independent watchdog of Indian democracy,” the statement said.

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“We demand that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report without fear and with freedom,” the Guild said.

The Guild also reiterated its earlier demand that the higher judiciary takes serious cognizance of the fact that several laws such as a sedition are often used to impede freedom of speech, and issue guidelines to ensure that “wanton use of such laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press”.

The Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) also “unequivocally” condemned the Uttar Pradesh Police’s decision to file an FIR for sedition against Mrinal Pande, founder president of the IWPC, along with several leading journalists, allegedly because they shared “unverified” news during the farmers tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the intimidating manner in which UP and MP police have registered FIRs against senior journalists, for reporting on farmers’ protests in Delhi on Jan 26. EGI finds these FIRs as an attempt to intimidate, harass, and stifle free media. pic.twitter.com/Mf3albnYvs
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) January 29, 2021

In a statement, the IWPC said it believes that the charges against Pande, who has been the editor of several leading news publications in the country, “smack of a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the situation”.

“It is an attempt to browbeat the media and push it to fall in line,” the IWPC said.

To attribute malafide intent against Pande and the other journalists charged is a “ham handed attempt at besmirching their reputation”, it said.

The Press Club of India said it is shocked to learn that UP and MP police have lodged FIRs against respected journalists, and others, on various counts of breach of criminal law, including sedition.

“We call upon the authorities in Lucknow and Bhopal to retract their vile move against well-known and respected journalists.

We also call upon the Union Home Ministry to reassess the situation and tender the counsel of caution to the UP and the MP governments,” the Press Club said.

“Anything less will be a willful tampering with the tenets of democracy. It will also be seen as a move to muzzle the media. We urge the government not to drag journalists in its ongoing actions in relation to protesting farmers,” it said.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and six journalists have been booked by the Noida Police for sedition, among other charges, over the violence during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi, officials said on Thursday.

The journalists named in the FIR are Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath and an unidentified person has also been named in the FIR.

Madhya Pradesh police have also filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Tharoor and the six journalists over their ‘misleading’ tweets on the violence during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi.