The Editors Guild of India on Friday expressed its concern over the registration of an FIR against Scroll Executive Editor Supriya Sharma and its Chief Editor over a report published from Varanasi’s Domari village, calling it an “overreaction” that “will seriously undermine freedom of the media”.
Taking cognizance of the FIR, the Guild, in a statement, said the use of the various Sections of the IPC and the SC/ST Act and 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”.
“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,” the Guild said in a statement, adding that it “needs to be resisted as well as eliminated.”
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/kjjQ0bt8R5
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 19, 2020
An FIR was filed against the reporter on June 13, on the basis of a complaint by Mala Devi, who Sharma had reportedly quoted in the report titled ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown’, published on Scroll.in on June 8.
The FIR was filed under IPC sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) and under the SC/ST Act.
Reacting to the FIR, Scroll.in replied saying, “Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article.”
Taking note of the statement by the website that it stood by the article in question, the Guild said it finds the “flagrant misuse of such laws unjustifiable and reprehensible”.
Earlier this month, the Editors Guild of India said it is “deeply concerned by the growing tendency among police in various states to take cognisance of frivolous charges against journalists and convert them” into an FIR. The statement followed the registration of an FIR against senior journalist Vinod Dua based on a complaint by Naveen Kumar, “identified as a spokesperson” of the BJP.
Last month, the Guild took note of the Delhi Police’s action against a reporter with the The Indian Express, describing it as “egregious and high-handed”, and called out a “concern a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country”.
In April, the Guild condemned the alleged attack at Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami following the registration of FIRs against the journalist for “inciting communal hatred”. “Any physical attack, instigation for hate or verbal abuse hurled against any journalist is a reprehensible act,” it had then said in a statement.
The same month, the Guild condemned the registration of FIR against the Editor-in-Chief of the website The Wire, and the government’s statement before the Supreme Court blaming the media for “causing panic among migrant workers leading to their mass movement in the wake of the lockdown.”
In March, responding to the multiple cases of police stopping journalists from reporting in different parts of the country since the 21-day lockdown came into effect, the Guild said police needs to be reminded by the governments that journalists provide an essential service and are exempted.