New Delhi: Three organisations of journalists have brought out statements condemning the registration of an FIR by Uttar Pradesh police against Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for her report on the post-lockdown situation in Varanasi’s Domari village.
Sharma has been booked under various charges of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and sections of the Indian Penal Code, after Domari resident and complainant Mala Devi alleged that Sharma had wrongly reported that her condition had worsened during the lockdown.
Sharma and Scroll.in have stood by the report.
In a statement, the Editors Guild of India said the use of criminal provisions of the law against journalists has now become an unhealthy and despicable trend that has no place in any vibrant democracy.
The Guild called it an “overreaction” which will “seriously undermine freedom of the media.” It also noted the statement released by Scroll.in, saying that it stood by the article in question.
The Guild said it respects all laws of the land as also the right of Mala Devi to defend herself against any acts of injustice.
“But it also finds the flagrant misuse of such laws unjustifiable and reprehensible. Worse, the increasing frequency of such misuse of laws by the authorities is tantamount to shooting the messenger and destroying a key pillar of India’s democracy,” it said.
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/kjjQ0bt8R5
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 19, 2020
Network of Women in Media
The Network of Women in Media has also released a statement, standing by Sharma and strongly condemning what it said were “attempts to muzzle the press and to prevent it from carrying out its duty to report on the condition of the most deprived sections of society.”
The organisation has demanded that the FIR against her be withdrawn. Mentioning details of the FIR filed against Sharma, the statement highlights that she is a senior journalist, with awards to her name and a series of reports from Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency, that speak for themselves.
The Network of Women in Media, India @NWM_India stands by @sharmasupriya and strongly condemns attempts to muzzle the press and to prevent it from carrying out its duty to report on the condition of the most deprived sections of society. We demand that the FIR be withdrawn. pic.twitter.com/6ht3pLrk2a
— Neha Dixit (@nehadixit123) June 19, 2020
The statement also delves into the peculiarity of the charges brought against her:
“The police have slapped not only Sec 501 IPC (defamation), intended to have a chilling effect on the journalistic community, on Sharma, but also invoked sections of The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA).
“However, the two sections of the PoA Act cited in the FIR, have no connection with Ms Sharma’s report. Nor do they reflect anything Mala Devi says in her complaint. The police have also, inexplicably, invoked Sec 269 IPC – ie, negligent act likely to spread infection – in the FIR.
“None of these sections have anything to do with Ms Sharma’s report,” it says.
The statement notes how police have, in several instances, refused to file reports against Adivasis and Dalits who the PoA Act seeks to actually protect, but have seen no wrong in using it against a journalist in what marks a “dangerous trend”.
Indian Women’s Press Corps
The Indian Women’s Press Corps also expressed deep concern at the registering of the FIR against Sharma for carrying out her professional duty.
In a statement, the IWPC said it views the FIR as another attempt to intimidate journalists and prevent them from highlighting news that is uncomfortable to the powers that be.
The IWPC reiterated that it is the “job of journalists to show truth to power so that the government can take remedial action and redress all wrongs.”
“Instead, many governments are increasingly using state machinery to shoot the messenger with intimidation and harassment,” the statement said.
A recent FIR against veteran journalist Vinod Dua exposes the trend adopted by authorities to silence journalists, it alleged.
(With PTI inputs)