“We also reiterate our earlier demand that the higher judiciary takes serious cognizance of the fact that several laws such as a sedition are often used to impede freedom of speech, and issue guidelines to ensure that wanton use of such laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press,” the Guild said in a statement.
The Editors Guild of India on Friday strongly condemned the “intimidating manner” in the way in which the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Police registered FIRs against senior editors and journalists (including current and former office bearers of EGI) for reporting on the farmers protest rallies and the ensuing violence that took place in the national capital on 26 January.
The Guild demanded that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report “without fear and with freedom”.
The Guild in a statement said that the journalists have been specifically targeted for reporting the accounts pertaining to the death of one of the protestors on their personal social media handles as well as those of the publications they lead and represent.
It must be noted that on the day of the protest and high action, several reports were emerging from eyewitnesses on the ground as well as from the police, and therefore it was only natural for journalists to report all the details as they emerged. This is in line with established norms of journalistic practice, it added.
“The FIRs alleged that the tweets were intentionally malicious and were the reason for the desecration of the Red Fort. Nothing can be further from truth. On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRS, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media. That the FIRs have been booked under as many as ten different provisions including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, is further disturbing”, the statement said.
This targeting of journalists grievously violates and tramples on every value that our democratic republic stands for. It is intended to grievously hurt the media and prevent it from working as an independent watchdog of Indian democracy, the Guild asserted.
“We also reiterate our earlier demand that the higher judiciary takes serious cognizance of the fact that several laws such as a sedition are often used to impede freedom of speech, and issue guidelines to ensure that wanton use of such laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press” the statement added.
The journalists named in the FIR are Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath.
The FIR has been lodged under Indian Penal Code sections 124A (sedition), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (criminal intimidation), 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 120B (criminal conspiracy), amongst others, according to reports.
They have also been booked under relevant provisions of the Information Technology Act.
Meanwhile, India Today has reportedly taken senior anchor and consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai off the air for two weeks, citing his on-air claim and tweets of Delhi Police shooting and killing a farmer during the January 26 tractor rally.