Updated: September 4, 2019 3:55:06 am
The FIR against a journalist who called attention to the substandard mid-day meal that was being provided to children in a school in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, reeks of official highhandedness. As the state’s Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi has reportedly said, police cannot proceed against a journalist for “merely exposing corruption and highlighting reality”. The FIR must be withdrawn immediately.
Pawan Jaiswal had shot a video in the last week of August that revealed how children at Seur Government Primary School were fed only rotis and salt in their mid-day meal — as per government guidelines, the meal needs to be freshly cooked and wholesome. Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi has alleged that the video was stage-managed and justified the FIR against Jaiswal and two others, including a village pradhan pratinidhi, Rajkumar Pal. Awasthi has claimed that the expose was a conspiracy to malign the image of the education department since the journalist, instead of approaching the authorities, made the information public.
The official seems to have confused the role of journalism with that of the government’s public relations department. By all accounts, Jaiswal did what was expected of him as a journalist, which is to report the story in the public space. An inquiry by the Child Development Officer, Additional DM and Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Chunar, has confirmed the veracity of Jaiswal’s report and action was taken against the errant officials. There seems to be no evidence so far to suggest that the journalist and the panchayat representative had motives other than exposing the negligence of the school officials. The mid-day meal scheme is a pivotal government initiative that has improved attendance and learning outcomes and is helping fight child malnutrition. It needs to be monitored carefully.
The FIR against Jaiswal could have a chilling effect on other journalists in the state. UP’s record in delivering public services and goods is far from desirable. Officials concerned about the government’s image should fix the flaws in the system instead of targeting those who merely bring them to public notice. As for the UP Police, it should focus on urgent tasks like curtailing crime through legal means, instead of harassing journalists for doing their job.
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