Picked up one evening

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Media Freedom | 30/03/2016
Police are increasingly dispensing with due process in handling offences involving media,

 Journalists in Chhattisgarh protesting ourside Chief Minister Raman Singh's gate in October 2015. Video credit: Pavan Dahat, The Hindu


Is there a new pattern emerging in the way media practice offences are dealt with? A pattern which has less to do with law and procedure and more to do with discretion or intimidation, depending on who you are?  If you go back the last four months, the facts are instructive.

Journalists are rather more frequently in the news these days as offenders, or as victims as in the case of Malini Subramanian in Jagdalpur in February where the provocation she gave was most likely journalistic in origin,  but was never mentioned, only dealt with outside the law. Via an attack on her house by members of an organization with links to the police.

At the beginning of last week it was  Prabhat Singh in Jagdalpur, who incredibly, ended up being picked up by plainclothesmen one evening  because a fellow journalist ratted on him for sending a Whatsapp message with an unflattering description of the inspector general of police of Bastar Range. In this case the FIR was filed citing  292A of the Indian penal code and section  67A of the IT act, meant for obscenity by electronic means because the offended journalist and the police seem to have considered Singh’s description of the IG obscene. This section is being used more frequently after the Supreme Court read down 66A. Cases of cheating were also tacked on. He has been sent to judicial remand.

Though in Prabhat Singh’s case it was a personal response which got him into trouble, the background to the alacrity with which he was arrested relates to his writings and his active campaigning for jailed journalists, say fellow journalists in Bastar.

And before the week ended, on Saturday March 26, another journalist was arrested in the same  state, in the neighbouring district of Dantewada, outside the local court. In a case registered months ago on the complaint of a school principal, triggering allegations of witch-hunting. He has  been  charged with sections on trespass, extortion and obstruction of the duty of a public servant in a case in Geedam district  of Dantewada for allegedly clicking photographs of school students without permission and extorting money from the school authorities. 

" No legal notice was issued to the publication as a first step. Such niceties are evidently being dispensed with nowadays."


On March 15  the Ayush Ministry filed a police complaint against an independent journalist in Delhi, Pushp Sharma, for an article he wrote for Milli Gazette, the headline for which said the ministry did not recruit muslims as yoga teachers.  No legal notice was issued to the publication as a first step. Such niceties are evidently being dispensed with nowadays.   Just a picking up of the reporter by the local police who landed up at his home at 6 pm three days after his story was published in Milli Gazette. Without any warrant.

An FIR was registered under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with creating hatred against communities. (This document is remarkable for the number of columns which remain unfilled.) An offence under section 153A  which pertains to “promoting enmity between different groups on communal grounds”does not require a warrant and is non bailable.

They took him with them and released him late at night. Thereafter  he was asked to report to the police station for three days in a row, kept till night each day and questioned, but not formally arrested.  He has been issued a letter by the police asking him not to leave the city. He had  been trying to get anticipatory bail from a district court, until this week’s holidays intervened.

Sharma cited RTI replies he had received, the Ministry disputed the authenticity of the replies, as well as the conclusion the article drew from them.  His story was preceded by earlier stories on the same subject.

In February the country heard of the airing of tampered videos by TV channels after the Jawaharlal Nehru campus incidents of February 9. We heard of videos being sent by the Delhi Government for testing. But there have been  no reports  of the police landing up at TV newsrooms for questioning, no reports of  the picking up journalists who were involved in preparing these telecasts.  Nobody in government evidently has been sufficient troubled by the allegedly tampered with videos to take any action in a matter though  the videos were treated as  evidence to act against individuals for sedition. On the contrary, the videos telecast by Zee TV became the basis of filing the first FIR on the JNU incident.

In the third week of December 2015 a Dainik Bhaskar reporter in Dausa Rajasthan was picked up and arrested for an erroneous story regarding the flying of a  Pakistani flag atop a house. It was not a Pakistani flag. The paper reported the offending story one day and corrected the “misreporting” in another story the next day, December 18.  But despite that the reporter  Bhuvnesh Yadav was arrested that evening. He ended up in jail for attempts to create communal disharmony, charged under the same section, 153A. 

The Rajasthan editor of Dainik Bhaskar was on record at that time saying that the initial report on the flag flying offence came from the police. The paper also carried a report saying that the police had got the house owner to file a complaint against the journalist because the newspaper had repeatedly highlighted police failure to maintain law and order in Dausa.  

The police net was  cast wider  to include the photographer who took the picture of the flag on the terrace, and the news editor of Dainik Bhaskar sitting in Jaipur, in the FIR. The latter said this week that reporter did get bail and the case is now with the crime branch of the CID with the investigation yet to be seriously taken up.

Misreporting on its own is not an offence cited in any law  unless the writing is defamatory or an  incitement to violence.  S.295A or S.153A  both pertain to giving religious offence.  The facts with the distortion of video have to do with defamation and forgery.  Additionally, a  media offence can be made out under a variety of sections of the IPC  provided there is demonstrable damage. 

What is emerging then is a new pattern where there is no mandatory following of due process, arbitrary pick ups of journalists have state sanction, and the decision on which offences police  will act  against with alacrity, is increasingly a matter of state discretion. Further, there is now the new option pioneered in Chhattisgarh, of simply hounding out a bothersome reporter via attacks and intimidation, rather than the filing of a case. 


This is an updated version of an article published in Scroll.in on March 28, 2016


Sevanti Ninan is a media commentator, author, and editor of TheHoot.org



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