Updated: August 9, 2021 7:06:32 am
POLICE HAVE registered a case against a Guwahati-based news portal after the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), Assam alleged that the website had aired “fake news” – related to hoardings that featured Olympian boxer Lovlina Borgohain – to “malign the the image of the Minister of Information and Public Relations, Pijush Hazarika and the department in public eye”.
In a complaint to Dispur Police Station in Guwahati on Friday, the director of DIPR requested that “appropriate legal action against the web portal” be taken under law for “dissemination of completely false and fabricated information designed to malign the images of innocent persons”.
The police registered a case under Sections 294A/500/505 (2) of the IPC and Section 45A of the IT Act on Friday. “The complaint came to us on August 6. We registered the case and now we are investigating it,” said an officer in Dispur Police Station.
The now-deleted news clip, posted on the Facebook page of Assamese news website The CrossCurrent Friday afternoon, reportedly questioned the use of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s photos on multiple hoardings that were put up in Guwahati in the past week – one congratulating Borgohain and the other commemorating the death anniversary of Assam’s first chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi.
The hoardings had large images of Sarma. In the Borgohain hoarding, the boxer’s photograph was not featured at all; it had two accompanying lines that said “Congratulations and best wishes to Lovlina Borgohain for qualifying for Tokyo Olympic 2020” and “You are the pride of Assam”. In the Bordoloi hoarding, the former chief minister’s face was relegated to the periphery, with Sarma’s occupying most of the space. Neither carried the name of the department which sanctioned it.
Borgohain’s hoarding kicked up a controversy on social media, with several users criticising the government for not featuring her photo and instead using Sarma’s. Another set of hoardings congratulating Borgohain featured Assam Sports and Youth Welfare Minister Bimal Bora’s picture.
Sarma himself tweeted on Thursday about the Bordoloi hoarding, saying he did not endorse it. “I do not endorse this kind of branding at all. Instruction has been issued not to use my picture from now onwards without prior approval of my office,” he tweeted.
On Friday, The CrossCurrent shared a four-minute clip in Assamese titled ‘Was Pijush Hazarika admonished for trying to flatter Himanta Biswa Sarma?’ While the video is not available online now, Gautam Gogoi, the website’s news editor, said the clip had asked who was behind these hoardings, and if Hazarika had gotten into trouble for making them.
“Usually the DIPR makes such hoardings. So we just raised some questions asking if they installed it, and if they had not, who had approved it? We also asked if Pijush Hazarika’s, who is the Minister of the Information and Public Relations, need to impress Himanta Biswa Sarma had backfired… since the latter said he did not approve of the hoarding,” Gogoi said.
Minister Hazarika told The Indian Express that he was not “personally involved” in the case. “The complaint has been filed by the DIPR and I am not involved in it. They [the news portal] had aired a news clip regarding two hoardings – however, neither I nor the DIPR had anything to do with the hoardings,” he said.
In the complaint to the police, the director of the DIPR also said neither the minister nor the department was involved in the hoardings.
Gogoi alleged they were “being targeted” for “merely raising basic questions”. The CrossCurrent was launched in 2018. “We have done a lot of news reports before too… questioning the government. That is probably why they picked us out,” he said.
A police officer said Gogoi was summoned for questioning on Friday. “As per formalities of CRPC, we questioned him and took a statement and let him go. Now we are investigating the matter and will be able to comment on it later,” the officer said.