Editors Guild, media bodies condemn FIR against journalist for reporting on hunger in Varanasi village

The investigation was initiated after the article published about residents of the Varanasi village going hungry amid the lockdown.
Representational Image. (File | EPS)
Representational Image. (File | EPS)

NEW DELHI: Journalists’ networks condemned registration of FIR against Supriya Sharma of the news website Scroll.in over a report from Domari village in PM Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi. 

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), the Editors Guild of India and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the Uttar Pradesh Police’s FIR.

“The stringent lockdown ordered to check the spread of the novel coronavirus has led to deep distress and uncertainty for contractual and daily wage workers... Yet, the government and police departments across India, and Uttar Pradesh in particular, have targeted journalists doing essential work,” the NWMI said.

Such cases drain a journalist and small media organisations, the network noted. Sharma’s reports were well-researched and detailed, it added. 

While the CPJ said the Uttar Pradesh Police should drop the criminal investigation and stop legally harassing journalists, the Guild said various Sections of the IPC and the SC/ST Act were an “overreaction” to the article titled ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown’. 

The investigation was initiated after the article published about residents of the Varanasi village going hungry amid the lockdown.

“The use of criminal provisions of the law against journalists has now become an unhealthy and despicable trend that has no place in any vibrant democracy,” the Guild said. Scroll.in in a statement has said that the investigation was “an attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown’. 

At least 55 journalists faced arrest, registration of FIRs, summons or showcauses notices, physical assaults, destruction of properties and threats for reportage on Covid-19 or exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the lockdown from March 25 to May 31, according to a report ‘India: Media’s Lockdown during COVID-19 lockdown’ by Rights and Risks Analysis Group.

The Scroll.in statement also clarified that it had interviewed Mala Devi in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020 and that her statements had been reported accurately in the article titled, "In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown", it said.

In view of the categorical statement from Scroll.in, the Guild said it is of the view that the use of various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the SC/ST Act are an "overreaction" and will seriously undermine freedom of the media.

The Guild said it respects all laws of the land as also the right of Mala Devi to defend herself against any acts of injustice.

"But it also finds the flagrant misuse of such laws unjustifiable and reprehensible. Worse, the increasing frequency of such misuse of laws by the authorities is tantamount to shooting the messenger and destroying a key pillar of India's democracy," it said.

The Indian Women's Press Corps also expressed deep concern at the registering of the FIR against Sharma for carrying out her professional duty.

In a statement, the IWPC said it views the FIR as another attempt to intimidate journalists and prevent them from highlighting news that is uncomfortable to the powers that be.

The IWPC reiterates that it is the job of journalists to show truth to power so that the government can take remedial action and redress all wrongs.

"Instead, many governments are increasingly using state machinery to shoot the messenger with intimidation and harassment," the statement said.

A recent FIR against veteran journalist Vinod Dua exposes the trend adopted by authorities to silence journalists, it alleged.

The IWPC said it has full faith in the judicial system and hopes the FIR against Supriya Sharma will not be entertained by the relevant courts and journalists will continue to have the freedom to expose the suffering of people and irregularities in the system.

The highest number of attacks in the media persons was reported from UP, followed by J&K.

(With PTI Inputs)

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