FIRs, Legal Procedures Being Used to Intimidate Journalists: Newslaundry on FIR Against Reporter

The FIR is based on the complaint of a journalist from News18, Deep Srivastava.

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New Delhi: An FIR was filed against media organisation Newslaundry‘s reporter Nidhi Suresh on July 4 at the Sadar Bazar police station in Shahjahanpur district of Uttar Pradesh after News18’s Deep Srivastava filed a defamation complaint against her. Reporter Manoj and the editor of another web portal, Bhadas Media, have also been named in the same FIR.

Sections 500 (punishment for defamation) and 501 (Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) of the Indian Penal Code have been invoked in the FIR.

The complaint in the FIR states, “Twitter handle @nidhisuresh tweeted that in Tilhar religious conversion case, I demanded money…and also mentioned a writ in Delhi court. Although writ does not mention the channel’s or reporter’s name, this twitter handle is conspiring against me and blaming me for taking money.”

The complainant also said that he is diabetic and his condition has worsened because of being “defamed”.

He further says in his complaint that many newspapers have published this news of conversion.

Previously, Suresh had written a report containing allegations of a woman named Ayesha Alvi that she was “harassed” by the media after her conversion to Islam. She had filed a petition in the Delhi high Court where she had mentioned that she received a threatening call from a number.

“… [the person] threatened that he will publish the news about my conversion and that I would get arrested and he demanded money from me and when we denied he threatened again. Thereafter he forcefully took 20 thousand rupees from us,” the petition read.

When Suresh called the number, the person on the other end identified himself as Deep Srivastava, reporter at News18. This was mentioned in the report, which also said that News18 was approached for a quote about their journalist’s role in the matter, but the organisation did not respond.

In her report, Suresh wrote, “[Srivastava] told Newslaundry there was ‘no truth’ in the claim that he had extorted money from Ayesha. When asked if Ayesha had initially refused to give him a video statement, Srivastava said, ‘I can’t talk about this over the phone.’ He then cut the call.”

According to a Newslaundry report, their reporter has received multiple phone calls from the investigation officer in the case, without any formal notice.

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Newslaundry co-founder and CEO Abhinandan Sekhri, while speaking to The Wire, said that this was part of a larger attempt to “intimidate” the media.

“Clearly, FIRs and legal procedures are being used to intimidate journalists in the country. It is sad, but what is sadder is that journalists themselves are contributing to this [referring to Deep Srivastava],” he said, adding that larger news organisations like Times Now have also previously filed cases against the web portal.

He added, “It seems that these organisations are not interested in doing journalism, but are active in becoming propaganda machines for the government.”

“Interestingly, the FIR has not been registered against the Newslaundry report, but against our reporter’s tweet. The tweet hasn’t been specified in the FIR. Our editorial filters are robust, and so is the report in question,” he further told The Wire.

Sekhri added that this attempt to “intimidate” Newslaundry’s reporter will not work and the organisation will be legally taking this case on.

He pointed out that this FIR could not have been filed without the approval of the magistrate, which has not been done by the police in this case.

The Supreme Court of India has previously held that for criminal defamation, the complainant must file a complaint before a magistrate first under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Newslaundry reporter Nidhi Suresh also said that the FIR has been filed without the magistrate’s approval. In a tweet, she wrote, “UP police registered an FIR against me after Deep Srivastava filed a complaint of defamation. As per law, an FIR for criminal defamation can only be filed after a magistrate’s approval. UP police bypassed this & registered an FIR under IPC 500 and 501.”

A spate of FIRs have been filed against reporters in recent times, including several against The Wire. Earlier this week, Reporters Without Borders published a list of 37 world leaders who are “predators of the press” – and India’s Narendra Modi made it to the list.