AHEAD of his bail hearing coming up in the Karnataka High Court on Monday, another case has been filed against Postcard.news owner Mahesh Vikram Hegde. Arrested on March 29 for a “fake news” post that claimed that a Jain monk had been attacked by a Muslim youth, Hegde is now facing four cases.
With his bail denied on April 6, Hegde’s lawyer Tejasvi Surya said, “This is a political witch-hunt, and it is clear that Congress workers or Congress-sponsored stooges are being used by the Siddaramaiah government to target Hegde.”
Surya, who is also general secretary of the BJP youth wing in Karnataka, said he wasn’t aware of his client’s background but was fighting the case “as a matter of principle”.
A close aide, Shakuntala Iyer, said Hegde was in talks with BJP leaders for a ticket to fight the Assembly elections from his native Moodbidri. “But he was arrested before that.”
She also emphasised, as did BJP MP Prathap Simha, that while Postcard.news might have carried “unverified information, it did not manufacture any news or morphed photos”. “The definition of fake news is multifold. We cannot just call something fake when it is the truth,” Iyer said.
The latest case against Hegde was filed by actor Prakash Raj, who has sought an investigation into two Postcard.news articles that “make shockingly inappropriate allegations.tarnish [his] reputation and have disturbed [his] personal life”.
One such piece, carried on Postcard.news Kannada on October 2, 2017, mocks Raj for questioning the “silence” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the assassination of journalist Gauri Lankesh. “How can a man who left his wife and ran after a dancer after the death of his son dare to question Modi and Yogi?” the headline said.
The actor’s two-year-old son had died in an accident in 2004. He separated from his wife in 2009 and married choreographer Pony Verma a year later.
“Postcard.news is a serial offender when it comes to spreading fake news. These articles were published last year but there is no information on the website about their authors or the owner of the website. When I heard that Hegde had been taken into custody because of another fake post, I decided to file a complaint,” said Raj.
Postcard.news is also facing another case, filed in December 2017, for a post on legendary Kannada women warriors Kittur Rani Chennamma, Belavadi Mallamma and Onake Obavva.
A website run in three languages — English, Kannada and Hindi — Postcard.news was set up in 2016 by Hegde, Vivek Shetty and Ankita Lal. Despite its popularity in right-wing circles, not much is known about Hegde, whose Twitter handle @mvmeet has the bio: “Blessed to be followed by PM Narendra Modi.”
According to the police, Hegde is a B.Sc graduate, whose native place is Belvai in Moodbidri in Dakshina Kannada district. “He lives in Mangaluru, and runs his website from there. He has no offices anywhere, though he has said that his servers are in Thiruvananthapuram. Our investigations have revealed that he is a member of a Hindu right-wing organisation,” DCP Crime Jinendra Kanagavi said.
Bengaluru-based Iyer (Twitter handle @shakkuiyer, also followed by Modi), who calls herself “a family friend and a sister” to Hegde, described him as a proud Hindu activist and a fierce critic of the Siddaramaiah government. “He is being targeted by the government because he has been a very vocal voice against it. Especially during the Paresh Mesta killing, Postcard.news carried reports from the ground which the mainstream media had blanked out,” she said.
Mesta, 18, went missing during a communal riot in Honnavar in Dakshina Kannada district in December last year. His body was found floating in a lake a few days later. On December 11, Postcard.news English carried a piece titled, ‘Genitals cut, hot oil poured on eyes and face, head split into two, condition of Dalit-Hindu activist Paresh Mesta, will the secular gang speak up?’. It had 15,000 shares. Independent autopsy reports, however, found no visible external injuries on Paresh’s body or evidence of mutilation.
A few days later, on December 14, a case was filed against Hegde in Karwar by Tehsildar Govinda Naik, accusing the website of trying to disturb peace and harmony through another article, titled ‘ISIS brutality followed to murder Paresh Mesta, but who gave instructions to prove it as natural death?’. The piece refuted Mesta’s autopsy report and alleged an attempt to “protect Islamic groups”. “Karwar police will also seek Hegde’s custody for investigation soon,” said Inspector Shivakumar.
Iyer said Hegde used to be a businessmen trading in RO water purifiers and helped run his brother’s hotels in Daman, before starting the news portal. “He wanted a space for people like us to express our opinions about what was happening in the country, beyond Facebook. He said he wanted anyone, and not just journalists, to have a voice. He was also very agitated by the anti-Hindu policies of the government. He has raised money for all the 22 Hindu activists killed in Karnataka under the Congress regime,” said Iyer, who is a business strategist and consultant for startups.
Most of the contributors to Postcard.news, said Iyer, were “volunteers”. “They are not journalists at all. They are activists, very driven by the cause of defending Hindus.”