Journalists In India Facing Threat and Intimidation For Criticising The Government
Syed Khalique Ahmed | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI, JUNE 14—India is a constitutional democracy and its constitution provides guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. But it appears that this is now more in precepts than in practice.
This is because of increasing incidents of threats and intimidatory tactics being used to silence the voice of journalists and media who try to criticize the policies and action of the existing political dispensation. This indicates that criticism is not palatable to the current political regime.
The latest victim of this tactics is veteran journalist Vinod Dua who telecasts his show ‘The Vinod Dua Show’ through HW News Network. His shows are very popular which are generally commentaries on the current developments involving government, including political bosses.
Two cases have been booked against him: one in Laxmi Nagar Police Station in Delhi on June 4 by BJP spokesperson Naveen Kumar and the other one on June 6 at Kumarsain Police Station in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, again by a BJP leader, on allegations of his show on March 11, 2020, being anti-national, seditious and based on fake news.
In his show, Dua merely commented on the failure of the Delhi police on controlling the Northeast Delhi riots. He also said that senior government functionaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah did not find time to visit the riot-affected areas because they were preoccupied with the state visit of US President Donald Trump.
Dua, in this episode, said that “protests against CAA, NPR and NRC were going on for 65 days at 291 places all over the country without any violence. But the question was: how to link it with violence and give a communal colour? And this was orchestrated in Northeast Delhi. But it was called a communal riot. When a riot takes places, it is said that you can identify the rioters with their clothes, an obvious reference to the Muslims. But Dua did not name the politician who made the reference of ‘rioters can be identified by their clothes’ in one of his political rallies during Jharkhand assembly elections".
He said in his episode that riots continued for three days in Delhi-from February 24 to 26-but neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah did visit the riot-affected areas because they were busy with the ongoing state visit of US president Donald Trump. Dua also quoted Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament in which he said he was holding ‘review meetings’ when the riots were taking place and that is why he could also not attend even the ‘Trump events’.
He further said that National Security Advisor, who advises the Prime Minister on internal as well as external security, had to visit the riot-hit areas like a Station House Officer (SHO) of a police station because the Home Minister did not perform his duties.
And BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi asked “Is it the job of a Home Minister to sit in a police station”? Dua replied in the episode, “Yes, it is the job of the Home Minister. You need to learn from our past leaders that you have to go to the streets when riots break out. Forgive me, it was not communal riot. It was a violence that was happening. Learn from our past leaders and among them is Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who would visit the areas while the riots were still on. But here, we have a ‘Pradhan Sevak’(Chief Servant) who becomes ‘paramhans’ (spiritual leader); a Home Minister, who remains absent; and the violence in Northeast Delhi continues for three days; property worth crores are gutted; several people are killed and on the top of it, they boast of having controlled the riots within 36 hours. But the question is why did the riots happen; why was BJP leader Kapil Mishra allowed to give provocative speech in presence of Deputy Commissioner of Police(DCP); why was Anurag Thakur allowed to raise slogans of “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro….. and even if they raised such slogans, why was no action taken against them? Why no action was taken against BJP’s Parvesh Verma? Instead of taking action, Delhi police was showered with praises that the riots were brought under control within 36 hours”.
So, Dua, in his show, only said that the two important top functionaries of the government did not act on time and he also criticised the government for praising the Delhi police despite the fact that the Northeast Delhi continued to burn for three days, resulting into death of 53 persons, injuries to hundreds, displacement of thousands of people and destruction of properties worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
Is it a crime to criticize the functioning of those sitting at top in the government? Dua was, and is, not an adversary of the government. What he did was simply to attract the attention of the government towards so much of destruction having taken place with neither PM nor HM having taken trouble to visit the violence-hit areas? He simply performed the role of a journalist in an open democratic society. But it seems that the present political dispensation could not tolerate his criticism.
On the basis of FIRs, Dua could have been arrested and harassed. He moved a Delhi court for relief from arrest and unnecessary harassment on the pretext of investigation. Additional Sessions Judge Vineeta Goyal granted anticipatory bail to Dua on June 10, directing the police not to take any coercive measures against Dua till June 29, the next date of hearing.
The Delhi high court, subsequently on June 12, stayed the investigation into the matter arising from the FIR till July 23, the next date of hearing. Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani observed that the steps taken so far by the police in the case do not seem to be in consonance with the law and “do not inspire much confidence”.
But Dua’s troubles did not stop at that. He received an e-mail message regarding registration of a similar FIR by Kumarsain police station of Shimla police on June 11 evening and a police team landed at his residence at 6.58 a.m. the next day, serving him summons to appear at before the Kumarsain Police for investigation into the case. At Kumarsain, Dua has been charged under sections 124A (sedition), 268 (public nuisance), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) on the basis of a complaint by BJP's Mahasu unit president Ajay Shyam.
But the Supreme Court on June 14 (Sunday) asked the police not to arrest him till July 6, the next hearing of the case. However, the apex court refused to stay the FIR.
Such harassment and intimidation of journalists was heard only during Emergency in Indira Gandhi days. But there is no declared Emergency now and yet, journalists running stories critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration are facing threats and intimidation in different forms since the BJP government came to power at the Centre in May 2014 and with huge majority in May 2019.
This is very serious. Whether one is arrested or not, the booking of cases will stop journalists from performing their duties because the journalists don’t have the resources and time to fight police and court cases. The booking of journalists will affect the quality of journalism and people will not get to know the truth about what is happening in the corridors of power because of fear of action against them as it is not possible for individual journalists with little or no resources to fight the government establishment for long. They will not muster courage to highlight the weaknesses of the government for fear of action against them. And this is very much visible from the coverage of the most of newspapers, magazines and TV channels where you will not find stories that criticize government’s policies and action in many cases, including unplanned Lockdown that resulted in myriad problems to the people, particularly poor and migrant labourers. Media houses and journalists are feeling afraid of raising issues unpalatable to the government.
When the entire country was under lockdown, two cases were registered by the Ayodhya police against founding editor of The Wire website Siddharth Varadarajan on allegations of defaming UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. When the movement of people was not allowed due to lockdown, he was delivered summons at his residence to personally appear in the court in Ayodhya. The matter is pending in the court.
Many journalists and TV anchors had to lose their jobs because they carried stories and news that was critical of the Modi and BJP government. Among them is Abhisar Sharma who had to leave ABP Group because of his stories being critical of Modi and BJP. Before Sharma, Punya Prasun Vajpayee had resigned from the ABP group due to political pressure on the company’s management. The NDTV which is not very ‘friendly’ with the BJP, had to face CBI investigation for alleged economic fraud.
Another journalist Bobby Ghosh, editor of the Hindustan Times, quit his job in September 2018. It is coincidence that his resigned after Modi met the owner of the newspaper. But journalists familiar with the development say that Modi was not happy with the editorial policies of Ghosh and he was, therefore, asked by the management to leave.
Last month, the Indian Express Special Correspondent Mahendra Singh Manral was questioned by Delhi police for his report “Tablighi FIR: Police probe indicates Saad audio clip was doctored”, published on May 9.
In BJP ruled Gujarat, Dhaval Patel, editor of a news website, was arrested on charges of sedition for a report that BJP is contemplating a change in the leadership of the state though such reports are very common in print as well as electronic and digital media.
Zubair Ahmed, working as a freelance journalist from Andaman and Nicobar Island was arrested by the police on charges of questioning the quarantine policies of the local police and administration.
But BJP leaders, when questioned by media at different points of time, have outrightly denied any interference in functioning of the media.