Media Bodies Slam FIRs Against Journalists, Want Sedition Law to Be Scrapped

The bodies compared the situation today to an 'undeclared emergency' and demanded the cases filed against journalists for reporting on the farmers' tractor rally be removed.

Jaipur: The sedition cases that have been slapped on journalists for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26 reeks of a conspiracy, observed a host of media and journalists’ bodies at a press conference on Saturday.

The joint press meeting was organised by the Press Club of India (PCI), the Editors’ Guild of India, the Press Association, the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), the Delhi Union of Journalists and the Indian Journalists Union, which was packed with the country’s best known journalists.

The FIRs have been filed in relation to the reporting of the farmers’ tractor rally, held on January 26 in Delhi, in which some early reports had suggested that a young farmer had died from a police bullet. Later, it was claimed that he died because his tractor overturned.

The PCI has expressed shock over criminal charges being pressed against journalists even as a reliable post mortem report in the case has not yet come out.

“This is a pathetic excuse on the part of the concerned state governments. In a moving story, things change on a regular basis. Accordingly, the reporting reflects the circumstances, when large crowds are involved and the air is thick with suppositions, suspicions, and hypotheses, there can sometimes be a divergence between earlier and later reports. It is criminal to ascribe this to motivated reporting, as is sought to have been done,” the PCI said in a statement.

“There seems to be a common prism through which various state governments are seeing journalists,” Anand K. Sahay, president of the PCI told The Wire. “I’ve seen the FIR filed by the MP police and the language seems that it was manufactured inside the Union home ministry,” he said.

“It seems to be inspired by one set of people who have found out the job of filing fake complaints. They want to give a run-around, so they are filling one case in Bhopal, one in Noida. This game is an old one,” he added.

Sahay also mentioned some of the journalists who have been proceeded against in recent times for doing their job, including Siddique Kappan from Kerala, Kishore Chandra Wangkhem from Manipur, Dhaval Patel from Gujarat, Rahul Kulkarni from Maharashtra, and Vinod Dua.

The FIRs were filed across three BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person.

On Saturday night, the Delhi police also filed a similar case.

“This is a clear case of overreach by the police and administration of the state governments which allowed the registration of the FIRs. If sedition charges are going to be invoked at the drop of the hat, where will we head to?” T.K. Rajalakshmi of the IWPC told The Wire.

“Why should any government feel insecure?” she added.

Addressing the conference, journalist Seema Mustafa, the president of the Editor’s Guild, said, “What kind of journalism can be practiced in times like these?”

“These charges are meant not only to intimidate and harass the journalists but to also to terrorise professionals, to make you afraid to do your job,” she added.

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, who is one of the journalists against whom the FIRs have been filed, also spoke and criticised the liberal use of sedition laws.

“Whether you are a journalist in Jammu and Kashmir or Manipur or in a Congress-ruled state, sedition is an unacceptable charge against journalists,” said Sardesai.

Editor of The Print Shekhar Gupta said, “Nothing done by these journalists amounts to any crime. Journalists tend to make errors, it’s no crime. We might think that there will be excellent lawyers to take care of the penal charges in the court but the process itself is the punishment.”

DUJ president S.K. Pande alleged the situation was like an “undeclared emergency”.

“What is happening today is a situation which is an undeclared emergency. People have seen what the Emergency was, we are heading for something worse, where if you raise the voice against the powers that are you will be targeted whether through sedition, or filing of FIRs so that you lose the desire to fight or feel compelled to call it a day. From journalists to farmers, to trade unionists, to artists, to writers and intellectuals all of them are facing a lockdown of the mouth,” Pande alleged.

A resolution was also passed in the meeting demanding the urgent withdrawal of sedition charges. “This meeting expresses deep disapproval of the action of the governments to seek to disrupt the work of journalist to inform the people and demands that governments withdraw the criminal charges, including that of sedition, against the editors and publications brought on January 28, 2021, and all the journalists in the country in recent years. We also seek that governments stop pressurizing news organizations,” the resolution reads.

“We further demand the scrapping of the anti-democratic sedition law and the ending of the dangerous, motivated, and misguided use of laws like UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] against journalists as these are meant for terrorists,” it adds.