New Delhi: In the latest instance of harassment of the media for critical reporting, the Uttar Pradesh administration has lodged an FIR against Ravindra Saxena, a journalist at Today-24 news portal for reporting on the mismanagement and negligence at a quarantine centre in Sitapur district.
In a video report, Saxena spoke to people at a quarantine centre in Maholi tehsil of Sitapur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, who alleged that they were served rotten rice.
“We had gone to meet the SDM Shashi Bhushan Rai for some news where we saw a person had come along with the rotten rice to make a complain[t] to the SDM. We spoke to him on camera and he told us how they were being served rotten rice at the quarantine center, but the authorities were not taking action. After this, we visited the quarantine center and made a detailed video of the mismanagement there,” Saxena told Newslaundry.
“The administration has filed a case against me through a Scheduled Caste trainee accountant Rishabh Gautam, in violation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Disaster Management Act. The FIR has been registered on the orders of the CM,” he claimed.
Mahendra Aggarwal, president of the district unit of the UP Journalist Association, has submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate of Sitapur. No positive response has been received so far. “The FIR is done, it cannot be canceled, but we have stopped the arrest. The police will investigate further and report. They (journalists) have done such a thing, due to which the authorities have become angry,” he said.
Several attempts were made to speak to SDM Shashi Bhushan Rai, but he could not be reached out.
Since the imposition of lockdown, FIRs have been registered against journalists in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar, among others, often for highlighting shortcomings in government.
In early April, the UP police had also filed an FIR against The Wire and its founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan for a news article on chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
The Editors Guild of India has also recently expressed its concern over “a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country.”
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/3Jdcke5nfm
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) May 13, 2020
The Guild’s statement has specifically pointed out a sedition case filed by the Gujarat police against Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of a Gujarati news portal, and a notice sent to the Indian Express‘s reported Mahendra Singh Manral by the Delhi police for his report that a police investigation had found that an audio clip of the leader of the Tablighi Jamaat could be possibly doctored. He has been asked to join the probe into this matter otherwise he would be charged under section 174 of the Indian Penal Code.
The Guild said that the police action in Gujarat and Delhi is deeply disturbing, “The government and police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy. The guild condemns these actions and demands state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press.”
In the latest ranking of the World Press Freedom Index, India has slipped two places and is now ranked 142 among 180 countries of the world. The Centre has constituted an ‘Index Monitoring Cell’ to understand India’s poor ranking in press freedom indices. The cell was set up soon after information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar had said on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, that the Narendra Modi government would “expose, sooner than later, those surveys that tend to portray bad picture about ‘Freedom of Press’ in India.”