RECENT STATEMENTS ISSUED

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) at Varanasi’s Ramnagar police station against Scroll Executive Editor Supriya Sharma and its Chief Editor over a report published from Varanasi’s Domari village. The FIR was filed on June 13 under Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease danger­ous to life) and 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as also under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Act). This followed a complaint by Mala Devi, who was quoted by Supriya Sharma in her report, published on Scroll.in on June 8.

The Guild has also noted the reported statement from Scroll.in saying that it stood by the article in question. The 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.”

In view of the categorical statement from Scroll.in, the Guild is of the view that the use of the various Sections of the IPC and the SC/ST Act are an overreaction and will seriously undermine freedom of the media. 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. It needs to be resisted as well as eliminated. The Guild 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.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the growing tendency among police in various states to take cognisance of frivolous charges against journalists and convert them into a First Information Report (FIR).

The latest instance is of the Delhi Police’s FIR against veteran journalist Vinod Dua, based on a complaint by Naveen Kumar, who has been identified as a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The accusations are a brazen attack on his right to free speech and fair comment. An FIR based on this is an instrument of harassment setting off a process that is itself a punishment.

The Guild unequivocally condemns this practice and urges the police to respect Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms rather than behave in a manner that raises questions on its independence.

The Editors Guild of India notes with concern a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country.

Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of a Gujarati news portal, ‘Face of Nation’, was booked for sedition and detained by the state police on May 11 for publishing a report suggesting the possibility of a leadership change in the state due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases. Patel was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and with spreading false panic under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (DMA). This is a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC.

The second instance of egregious and high-handed action has come from Delhi Police. On May 10, the Delhi Police sent a notice to Mahender Singh Manral, Special Correspondent, The Indian Express, through the City Editor and Chief Reporter, The Indian Express, requiring the journalist, who had reported that police investigations found the possibility of the audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad, being doctored, to join a probe on this matter on May 10.

While Manral wasn’t charged under any law, he was threatened that failure to join the probe could result in legal action under Section 174 of the IPC with punishment of a prison term and fine. This appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist’s source and, thus, warn other reporters.

These instances of police action in Gujarat and Delhi are deeply disturbing. The government and the police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy. The Guild condemns these actions and asks the state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press.

The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the physical attack against senior editors of Republic TV channel Arnab Goswami and Samyabrata Ray in the early hours of Thursday, April 23, in Mumbai, when they were returning home from work. Any physical attack, instigation for hate or verbal abuse hurled against any journalist is a reprehensible act. The freedom to express one’s views or report facts without any fear or intimidation whatsoever is the most fundamental tenet of journalism.

The Guild asks the Mumbai Police to bring to book those who had attacked the two editors.

The Editors Guild of India has noted with shock and concern the high-handed manner in which the law enforcement agencies in Jammu & Kashmir have used the prevailing laws to deal with two Srinagar-based journalists, Masrat Zahra, a young freelance photographer, and Peerzada Ashiq, a reporter working for The Hindu. While only an FIR has been filed in connection with a report filed by Peerzada Ashiq, the authorities in the union territory have used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against Masrat Zahra.

Any recourse to such laws for merely publishing something in the mainstream or social media is a gross misuse of power. Its only purpose can be to strike terror into journalists. The Guild also believes that this is an indirect way of intimidating journalists in the rest of the country as well.

The journalists should be put to no harm or further harassment. If the government has any grievance against their reporting, there are other ways of dealing with such issues in the normal course. Mere social media posts of factual pictures can’t attract the toughest anti-terror laws passed for hardened terrorists. And in the case of The Hindu reporter, the correct course was to escalate the complaint to the newspaper’s editor.

The Guild demands that the Union Territory administration of Jammu & Kashmir withdraw the charges forthwith.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply perturbed over the recent government statement before the Supreme Court putting the blame on the media for causing panic among migrant workers leading to their mass movement in the wake of the lockdown.

This led the apex court to observe that while it didn’t want to inhibit the debate on the pandemic in any way, the media should refer to and publish the official version of the developments pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic. The Guild would state in all humility that it holds the court in the highest respect, but finds this advice gratuitous and unnecessary.

Blaming the media at this juncture can only undermine the current work being done by it under trying circumstances. Such charges can also obstruct in the process of dissemination of news during an unprecedented crisis facing the country. No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media.

The Guild’s attention has also been drawn to the lodging of a First Information Report against the Editor-in-Chief of the website TheWire. A police action in the form of an FIR under criminal laws at this stage is an overreaction and an act of intimidation.

Any such intimidation of the media or blaming the media for mass migration of workers will be counterproductive. Such actions will be tantamount to disabling the messenger.

The Guild believes for sure that the media must be responsible, free and fair. But such interference can only undermine those goals.

The Editors Guild of India has noted with concern that high-handed and arbitrary police action has obstructed many journalists from reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in many parts of the country. Such action is self-defeating when media freedoms are critically important for covering the outbreak and the state response.

The job of the police is not to impede journalists’ work, especially under current circumstances, but to facilitate their functioning. The State and Union Territory governments and the police also need to be reminded that media has been exempted as an essential service under the current lockdown guidelines of the Union Home Ministry.

The Guild, therefore, urges all law enforcement agencies to let the media play its role as smoothly as possible. It also urges the government to put in place a suitable mechanism to facilitate minister-level regular briefings during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, so that communication does not suffer as it doesn’t give the media adequate opportunity to ask questions.

The Editors Guild of India expresses serious concern over the manner in which journalists assigned to cover the violence in Delhi have been targeted for physical attack. There are reports of journalists being hospitalised after such attack.

The Guild notes that journalists being attacked is tantamount to a direct assault on press freedom and those guilty of having indulged in such violence must be brought to book.

It urges the Delhi Police to take necessary steps to provide protection to journalists and prevent any such attack in the future. It also requests the Home Ministry, under which Delhi Police functions, to investigate these incidents and punish the guilty. The Home Ministry must also direct Delhi Police to take appropriate action.

The Editors Guild of India is grieved by the untimely demise of senior journalist Ashwini Chopra, who was the resident editor of Punjab Kesari, a Hindi-language newspaper brought out by the Hind Samachar Group. Mr Chopra, a former member of Parliament, died after a prolonged illness. He was 63 and a grandson of Lala Jagat Narain who had founded the Hind Samachar Group and had fallen victim to a terrorist attack. Mr Chopra’s father Romesh Chander also was assassinated by terrorists.

In a condolence message, the Guild noted the contribution, the Hind Samachar group made in upholding independence and freedom of the media in the face of terrorism and violence in Punjab in the 1980’s. Mr Chopra, also known by his pet name Minna, had earned a post-graduate degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, and was an avid cricketer. The Guild extends its heart-felt condolences to the bereaved family.

The Editors Guild of India has noted with deep dismay and concern the deplorable act of Amit Malviya, the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Information Technology cell, in which he conducted an offensive, McCarthyist social media ‘poll’ on noted journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.

The poll on Twitter was not only tasteless, it also questioned the integrity and patriotism of Mr Sardesai, who is a journalist of standing and a former President of the Editors Guild of India.

The Twitter poll by a national head of the BJP also raises questions on the

party’s commitment to healthy debate and dissent without allowing disagreement to degenerate into abuse. The Guild urges Mr Malviya to immediately withdraw the so-called Twitter poll, and the BJP to caution him strongly.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the various acts of violence and brutality committed by police forces, in particular those in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, against media persons in different parts of the country in the last one week.

The Guild reminds the police forces across the country that journalists are present at different venues, where protests are taking place, as part of their Constitutionally guaranteed duties of gathering information and disseminating it among the people through their respective media platforms. Using force or physical violence against journalists on duty throttles the very voice of democracy and media freedom.

The Guild urges the Union Home Ministry to direct police forces in different states to offer adequate protection to journalists engaged in coverage of the ongoing protests. Instead of targeting them for physical attack, the need of the hour is to ensure proper and responsible coverage, a goal that cannot be achieved by such acts of violence and brutality against journalists on duty.

The Editors Guild of India has deplored the indefensible acts of violence perpetrated on employees of Prag News, a 24X7 Assamese news channel, by police forces. The Guild’s attention has been drawn to a social media video that shows uniformed policemen running amok outside the Prag News offices, targeting cameramen belonging to the television channel with their batons. The Guild demands that an inquiry should be instituted to identify those who indulged in such violence against journalists, and punish the guilty.

The Guild is also concerned over the recent advisory issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting to all private television channels asking them to desist from broadcasting content that could incite violence or cause law and order problems or ‘anti-national’ feelings.

The Guild believes that the media’s overall commitment to responsible coverage of developments in the country should not be questioned through such an advisory. It is the media’s responsibility to report freely and truthfully and fairly. The Guild decries such a regressive advisory that interferes in the functioning of a free media, and urges the government to withdraw it.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to delegate powers to the secretaries of different departments to file complaints and lodge cases against the media through the public prosecutor against published or broadcast news items that they consider defamatory.

The Guild believes that such blanket powers to the top civil servants in each of the departments of the state government will be prone to misuse and their rampant application will do grievous damage to the freedoms of the media. The Guild has always upheld the principles of free, fair and responsible journalism. But such powers, earlier exercised only by the information commissioner, are now delegated to all secretaries and this will seriously undermine the functioning of the media.

The Guild urges the Andhra Pradesh Government to withdraw this order. Criminal defamation is bad enough by itself, in the hands of individuals. If the state were to employ it with its own limitless resources, it will amount to censorship by another name.

The Editors Guild of India is distressed to note that an unwritten ban has been imposed by the YSR Congress-led government in Andhra Pradesh on two Telugu news channels – TV5 and ABN. Such restrictions strike at the root of press freedom. The Guild urges the Andhra Pradesh government to clarify if it indeed has in any way been responsible for the stoppage in telecasting of these two television channels. If so, it should immediately rescind any such order.

The Guild urges the government not to create a situation where the constitutionally and legally mandated freedoms of media representatives are compromised.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the Uttar Pradesh government’s action of filing an FIR under serious sections of criminal law against journalist Pawan Jaiswal for his report that mere rotis and salt were being served to school children as their lawfully guaranteed mid-day meal in Siyur primary school, Mirzapur.

It is a cruel and classic case of shooting the messenger. It is precisely exposés such as these that show how valuable free and fearless journalists are to a democratic society. It is shocking that instead of taking action to fix what is wrong on the ground, the government has filed criminal cases against the journalist. Even if the government believes that his report is wrong, there are easy and conventional redresses available. Using the IPC and police is no way to respond to this.

The Guild urges that the state government withdraw these cases forthwith and ensure that the journalist is not put to any further harm or harassment.

The Guild also expresses grave concern over recent incidents of restrictions on the overseas travel of journalists. The latest being the denial of travel permission at the airport for journalist Gowhar Geelani, who works for a German media organisation. The law does indeed give the government such powers but only in the rarest of rare cases and following due procedure and disclosure. There must be transparency in these decisions.

The Guild urges the government not to create a situation where the constitutionally and legally mandated freedoms of media representatives are compromised.

The Editors Guild of India is gravely concerned that the Press Council of India, an institution created to safeguard press freedom, is not only failing to speak up for it but is perversely arguing for a media clampdown in the name of national interest. This, at a time when reporters on the ground are being targeted for doing their job.

The Guild believes that it is a free media that offers a reliable feedback loop to those in charge of governance, that keeps the citizenry well informed so as to ensure responsive governments, and which acts as a safety valve for the expression of frustrations or criticism that can grow if attempts are made to suppress them. A free media is, therefore, very much in the national interest.

Specifically, the Guild expects the chairman of the Press Council of India to rescind his unilateral decision, apparently taken without consulting Council members, to intercede in a case in the Supreme Court concerning extreme and unrelenting restrictions placed on the media in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Guild urges the Press Council to objectively ascertain the trying circumstances in which the press is working in Jammu and Kashmir and lend its moral and institutional weight to help ease the restrictions that stand in the way of fair and accurate reporting.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over the continued shutdown in communication links with the Kashmir Valley and the consequent curtailment of the media’s freedom and ability to report fairly and accurately on current developments.

While some visiting journalists may be able to file their reports once they are out of the Valley, the lockdown is almost total and draconian for the vibrant local media that are the first eyes and ears on the ground. The Government knows very well that it is impossible to process and publish news now without the internet. It owes it to the people of India, including all in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to allow the press, a vital institution of democracy, to function freely.

In a situation such as that prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir at present, the role of free media, unhindered by such restrictions, becomes critically important in helping dissemination of news and in its democratic duty of keeping a watch on institutions of government and security.

The Guild underlines the imprudence in creating an unfair distinction in the treatment: for access, curfew passes, communication between local journalists and those coming in to report from outside. All journalists and all Indian citizens are entitled to equal freedoms.

The Guild urges the government to take immediate steps to restore normalcy for the media’s communication links. Media transparency has and always should be India’s strength, not fear.

The Guild expresses its appreciation for and solidarity to all journalists reporting from the ground despite unprecedented challenges. The Guild requests all, especially the government, to ensure their safety and freedom of movement.

Office-bearers of the Editors Guild of India called on Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at her office in Parliament on Monday, July 22. The meeting discussed the recent order issued by the finance ministry to stipulate that journalists, irrespective of their accreditation with the Press Information Bureau, could meet officials at North Block only after securing prior appointment.

At the meeting, the Finance Minister kindly agreed to meet a group of senior finance ministry correspondents along with the Guild’s representatives to discuss the objectives of the finance ministry order, allay the media’s apprehensions and explore solutions.

The Editors Guild of India had issued a statement on July 10, criticising the finance ministry order. Subsequently, the Guild had sought a meeting. The finance minister was gracious and met the Guild’s office-bearers sparing time from her commitments in the Budget session.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the Union finance ministry’s arbitrary decision to deny even government-accredited journalists’ access to its offices in North Block, without prior appointment. The Guild has no dispute with the ministry that journalists should behave with restraint and responsibility while enjoying their access to the finance ministry. But a blanket order is not the answer. Journalists do not go to government offices to enjoy the comforts and hospitality of visitors’ rooms designated for them. They go to perform their challenging job of news gathering. This order is a gag on media freedoms and can even result in a further fall in India’s global press freedom rankings, especially as the contagion can easily spread to other ministries as well. If the finance minister believes that journalists’ access to government offices was causing some inconveniences, the system could be improved in discussions with journalists. The Guild urges the finance minister, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, to reconsider her decision and withdraw this decision.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the arrest of Noida-based journalist Prashant Kanojia and the editor and head of a NOIDA-based television channel, Nation Live – Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla- by the Uttar Pradesh government. Mr Kanojia has been accused of uploading a post on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the social media and the Nation Live head and editor have been charged with having aired a video on the UP chief minister. The police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws. The Guild sees it as an effort to intimidate the press, and stifle freedom of expression.

The FIR is based on the journalist sharing on Twitter the video of a woman claiming a “relationship” with the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The television channel had broadcast a video on the same issue. Whatever the accuracy of the woman’s claims, to register a case of criminal defamation against the journalists for sharing it on the social media and airing it on a television channel is a brazen misuse of law. To give the police powers to arrest, provisions of Section 66 of the IT Act have also been added.

As with a recent case in Karnataka that the Guild spoke about, the FIR in this case is also not filed by the person allegedly affected but suo motu by the police. This is a condemnable misuse of law and state power.

The EGI also reiterates its demand that the defamation law should be decriminalised. The misuse of law in this specific case, as in Karnataka earlier, goes way beyond criminal defamation as many IT Act and Indian Penal Code provisions have been invoked in what looks like a motivated and vindictive action.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the First Information Report (FIR) filed by a Bengaluru-based JD(S) leader, Pradeep Gowda, against Kannada newspaper, Vishwavani, and its owner-Editor, Vishweshwar Bhat. It’s an effort to intimidate the press, and stifle freedom of expression.

The FIR alleges that a report in the newspaper on the political turmoil in the family of former Prime Minister and JD (S) chief, H D Deve Gowda, is defamatory. The Guild strongly condemns the use of criminal defamation and brazen misuse of other provisions of the law against the media and demands that the Karnataka government must immediately ensure that the FIR is withdrawn. This case is worse, because the FIR is not even filed by the person allegedly affected but by a party-man claiming to be aggrieved. This is a brazen misuse of law and state power.

The EGI also reiterates its demand that the defamation law should be decriminalised. The misuse of law in this specific case, however, goes way beyond criminal defamation as many Indian Penal Code provisions have been invoked in what looks like a motivated and arbitrary use of power.

The Editors Guild of India condemns several incidents of physical attack on journalists in West Bengal on May 6, during the fifth phase of polling. Journalists belonging to different media organisations including NewsX, ABP Ananda and Zee News were attacked, allegedly by workers of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Physical attacks against journalists are always reprehensible, but particularly so during elections as they undermine fair media scrutiny of an election.

The Guild urges the Election Commission of India to initiate necessary action against those who indulged in physical violence against journalists and asks the TMC-led West Bengal government to ensure law and order in the state so that journalists are not attacked by political parties and they can perform their professional duties safely.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply distressed over the Meghalaya High Court’s order in a contempt case against The Shillong Times including its Editor and Publisher for reporting the proceedings of the Court. The order, which among other things imposes a fine along with a threat of imprisonment and a ban on the publication, is intimidatory and undermines press freedom. It is ironical that the judiciary which should uphold press freedom has instead issued an order that militates against freedom of expression. The Guild urges the judiciary to exercise its constitutional powers with utmost caution and care so that the role of a free media in a democracy is duly respected.

The Editors Guild of India unequivocally condemns the Attorney General’s comments before the Supreme Court pertaining to documents based on which the media, including The Hindu, had reported on the Rafale deal.

Attorney General K.K.Venugopal on Wednesday sought dismissal of a petition for a review of the apex court’s earlier judgment, giving the government a clean chit, on the ground that the fresh petition had relied on documents that were “stolen” from the defence ministry and that investigations were going on to find out if it was a crime and violative of the Official Secrets Act.

Although the Attorney General later clarified that the investigation and contemplated action would not be initiated against journalists or lawyers who used these documents, the Guild is perturbed over such threats. These will intimidate the media in general and curb its freedom to report and comment on the Rafale deal in particular. Any attempt to use the Official Secrets Act against the media is as reprehensible as asking the journalists to disclose their sources.

The Guild denounces these threats and urges the government to refrain from initiating any action that might undermine the media’s freedom and independence.

The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the recent tirade of abuse and intimidation against the media and many senior journalists, especially women, in the wake of their reportage and commentary in the run-up to the general elections.

Since much of this is being done through social media, especially Twitter, the Guild urges their respective managements to exercise due caution and a sense of responsibility. Some of what is being allowed to pass clearly amounts to sexual abuse or instigation to violence. Corporations owning these platforms need reminding themselves that they must not allow unlawful behaviour. Business models thriving on hate of any kind are reprehensible.

The Guild believes there is no place for such social media abuse and threats of physical violence in a democracy. Differences of opinion should be respected and resolved through a robust but civil dialogue and debate. It had issued a statement on some of these issues on June 3, 2018 as well.

The Guild urges the government to take necessary steps to bring the abusers to book. Police cybercrime cells should address these complaints on priority. The relevant ministries and regulators should also ensure greater clarity on the laws to ensure accountability on the part of social media platforms. Laws on sexual harassment, intimidation and incitement to violence should be strictly enforced on those using social media and nobody should be allowed to hide behind anonymity.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the arbitrary manner in which several senior journalists of Jammu & Kashmir were denied entry into the stadium in Srinagar to cover the Republic Day function being held there on January 26. It is shocking that many of them were stopped from entering the stadium to perform their professional duty in spite of their possessing entry passes issued by the state government’s Information Department. Equally deplorable is the state government’s earlier decision to deny entry passes for covering the Republic Day function to many other senior journalists.

The Guild believes that this is an unprecedented state-sponsored attack on press freedom and demands an inquiry into how such lapses were allowed to take place. It also seeks an assurance from the government that such reprehensible acts would not be repeated. If necessary, a fool-proof and non-discriminatory system of issuing entry passes to journalists to help them perform their professional duty in high-security areas must be introduced at the earliest.

The Editors Guild of India has noted with concern the words used by Congress President Rahul Gandhi in his criticism of ANI Editor-in-Chief Smita Prakash who interviewed Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week.

The Guild believes journalists should claim no immunity from healthy and civilised criticism. At the same time, labelling of journalists has emerged as a favourite tactic on the part of the establishment to discredit, delegitimise and intimidate them.

We have seen our political class use this for some time now. In the recent past, top BJP leaders as well as those of AAP have used unambiguously abusive expressions such as “presstitute”, news-traders, “bazaaru” (saleable commodities) or “dalals” (pimps) for journalists.

Combined with ploys such as boycotts, denial of access and lately government accreditation, this adds up to a reprehensible strategy to throttle media freedoms.

This must be reversed. Journalists, we believe, will continue to deal with these with their usual thick skins and not let these tactics intimidate them. The Guild, as an apex, non-partisan institution, however, takes strong exception to this tendency and calls for its halt.

The Editors Guild of India has expressed concern over the recent arrest of a senior editor, Suman Chattopadhyay, by the CBI on reported charges of financial misdemeanour. At the time of his arrest, Mr Chattopadhyay was the editor of Ei Samay, a Bengali newspaper published from Kolkata.

The Guild believes that nobody has immunity from law and it must take its own course, but warns that the views held by Mr Chattopadhyay in discharging his editorial responsibilities should not be held against him or become a factor in the investigation. The Guild wants the government to make sure that its investigative agencies are totally fair and professional in pursuing this investigation and prosecution.

The Guild has also urged the law enforcement authorities to provide Mr Chattopadhyay all the options and facilities that are available to all citizens for seeking due legal recourse.

The Editors Guild of India has condemned the Kerala government’s recent directive that imposes undue restrictions on the media. It urges the state government to revoke it without any delay.

The Guild notes a circular issued by the Kerala State Home Department on November 15, 2018. It is a brazen attempt at restraining the movement of media persons while they are discharging their professional duties.

The circular prevents the media from approaching the Chief Minister, other ministers and higher officials except through the Information and Public Relations department of the state. This is regressive and a direct assault on press freedom as it forbids journalists from seeking comments from ministers and senior officials, imposes curbs in their movement of inside the government secretariat and makes senior government representatives attending public functions out of bounds for them.

The Editors Guild of India has expressed grave concern over the manner in which the Meghalaya High Court has issued a show-cause notice to the editor and publisher of The Shillong Times asking them why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for carrying a report on how the judges of the Court have granted themselves and their families many facilities and benefits.

It is unfortunate that an editor has been summoned by the Meghalaya High Court for what appears to be a factual news report. The Guild believes that the judiciary is one of the pillars of India’s democracy and should stand by the media in helping it discharge its functions in an independent and unbiased manner. Such contempt notices are regrettable and will be seen as judicial intimidation of the media. Judges, who have broad shoulders and are tolerant of criticism, are the need of the hour.

The Guild urges the Meghalaya High Court to take necessary steps that uphold the spirit of unbiased and independent functioning of both the judiciary and the media.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) had sought the views of its Executive Committee (EC) on what action should be taken against Mr M.J. Akbar, a dormant member at present and one of its past presidents, Mr Tarun Tejpal and Mr Gautam Adhikari in light of the charges of sexual misconduct levelled against them by several women journalists. Mr Akbar’s lawyer‘s response to the Guild’s show-cause notice was also shared with the EC.

A majority of the EC members suggested that the membership of Mr Akbar should be suspended. There was also consensus that Mr Tejpal be suspended too, until the conclusion of his trial and the Guild should write to Mr Adhikari to seek his response.

Office-bearers of the Guild discussed the EC’s comments and took the decision on the matter. It has concurred with the majority view that Mr Akbar should be suspended from the Guild till such time that the court case he has filed is concluded. Using the same logic, the Office-bearers decided that Mr Tejpal too should be suspended from the Guild. For Mr Adhikari, the Office-bearers decided that the Guild will write to him seeking a formal response to the charges against him.

The Editors Guild of India is tracking with great concern fresh, and serious allegations of sexual misconduct against former editor M.J. Akbar. He is a past president of the Guild, and continues to be a member.

In accordance with the decision of the Guild’s last EGM, as ratified at the subsequent meeting of the executive, membership of those editors, whose profession has changed from journalism goes dormant. Mr Akbar’s membership is also therefore dormant.

The Guild executive is discussing further course of action. As provided by the Guild’s Constitution, the executive committee is writing to him to respond to these allegations. His response will then be put up to the executive. A decision on his membership will be taken once this due process is completed.

The Editors Guild of India is saddened to learn of the death of a camera person of Doordarshan and two policemen after they were attacked by Maoist insurgents in the Dantewada district of poll-bound Chhattisgarh. The Guild offers its condolences to the families of the deceased and urges the law enforcement agencies in the state to provide necessary security and protection to the media professionals particularly when they are on election coverage duty. Creating a safe environment for media professionals to discharge their duties will be critical for ensuring freedom of the press.

The Editors Guild of India salutes the courage shown by several women journalists in bringing to light instances of how they were sexually harassed. The resignation of Mr M. J Akbar from union council of ministers is a result of these women journalists’ courage to fight for a high principle: gender equality in the newsroom.

We hope that Mr Akbar will also display the grace to withdraw the criminal defamation case he has filed against one of these complainants. While Mr Akbar is entitled to all legal instruments available to a citizen to seek vindication, it would be paradoxical for a veteran editor to employ the instrument of criminal defamation. More so for Mr Akbar who happens to be a former president of the Guild.

But if he doesn’t, or in case he files such cases against other women too, the Guild offers its support to them. If any of them were to need legal advice or assistance, the Guild will do the best it can to help and also appeal to eminent lawyers to represent them pro bono.

The Editors Guild of India expresses concern over the search and survey conducted by the Income Tax Department today at the offices of The Quint, a media company, and at the residence of its founder and promoter, Raghav Bahl.

Bahl is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Editors Guild of India and a founder of the Network18 group. In his statement, Bahl has said that “we are a fully tax compliant entity, and will provide all access to all appropriate financial documents.”

The Guild is also perturbed over Bahl’s statement that he had to strongly advise the tax officials that they should not try and pick up or see any other mail or document which is likely to contain very serious and sensitive journalistic material. “If they do that, then we shall seek extremely strong recourse”, Bahl has stated.

While the tax administration is within its rights to make inquiries in compliance with the relevant laws, it should not exercise those powers in a way that could be seen as an intimidation of the government’s critics.

The Guild believes that motivated income-tax searches and surveys will seriously undermine media freedom and the government should desist from such attempts.

The Editors Guild of India has noted with concern and dismay the incidence of alleged sexual harassment and assault on women journalists by their male colleagues. It unequivocally condemns all predatory conduct by such men. It is worse when the perpetrators also happen to be enjoying senior or supervisory positions in the profession.

The Guild also expresses its gratitude and solidarity towards women journalists who have displayed the courage to bring these critical issues in public debate.

The Guild is also committed to ensuring that the legal rights of either the victims or the accused are not violated. A fair, just and safe working environment is essential if press freedoms are to flourish. The newsroom in our profession is a relatively informal, free-spirited and hallowed space. It must be protected.
The Guild extends its total support to all women journalists, who suffered a disadvantage in their careers, physical or mental trauma, as a result of any sexual predation.

It calls upon the media organisations to hold unbiased inquiries into all reported cases. This is the time for all of us to strengthen our internal processes. It includes training of staff and improving awareness, as mandated by the law and even beyond. Anybody found guilty of sexual harassment or assault should be punished as provided in the law.

The newsroom is the most inclusive work space in terms of gender. It is our responsibility as media leaders to ensure that it remains safe and fair for all, especially women.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the decision of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) to cancel the registration of Daily Desher Katha, a daily newspaper published from Agartala.

According to media reports, the registration of Daily Desher Katha, a mouthpiece of the CPI-M in Tripura, was cancelled on the ground that there was “unauthorised change of ownership”. According to the letter issued by the RNI to Daily Desher Katha, the registration was cancelled on the basis of a report from the sub-divisional magistrate. As a consequence, the daily suspended its publication on October 2 for the first time since its inception about four decades ago.

The Guild is of the view that cancellation of the registration of a publication on the mere finding that there was a mismatch between the information of the editor, printer and publisher is not only a gross overreaction but also a draconian step that throttles freedom of the media.

The Guild demands immediate revocation of the order on the cancellation of the registration of Daily Desher Katha, pending further inquiry into the charges of misinformation. It also demands that a thorough inquiry is instituted by the government to investigate whether the decision was politically motivated.

Editors Guild of India condemns a Myanmar court’s verdict that has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison after pronouncing them guilty of having breached the country’s Official Secrets Act.

The Guild is opposed to the use of provisions under the Official Secrets Act in any country to throttle the voice of the media. The two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the death of 10 Rohingya Muslims.

The Guild believes that the arrest and imprisonment of journalists are a big blow to democracy and demands their release from jail at the earliest.

Editors Guild of India is pleased to announce its new Executive Committee. The first meeting of this committee will be convened on 3rd September 2018 in Delhi. This committee will comprise-

Vijay Naik, Consulting Editor (Delhi), Sakal

Shashi Shekhar, Editor-in-Chief, Hindustan Media Ventures Limited

Anant Nath, Editor, The Caravan

Seema Chishti, Deputy Editor, The Indian Express

Prakash Dubey, Group Editor, Dainik Bhaskar

Vijay Joshi, Editor-in-Chief, PTI

Sonia Singh, Editorial Director, NDTV

Patricia Mukim, Editor, Shillong Times.

Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor, The Hindu Chennai.

Raghav Bahl, Editor-in-Chief, TheQuint

R Jagannathan, Editorial Director, Swarajya

Naresh Fernandes, Editor, Scroll.in

Jayant Mammen Mathew, Executive Editor, Malayala Manorama

S Prasannarajan, Editor, Open Magazine

Dilip Mandal, Former Managing Editor, India Today

Ex-Officio Members of the EC (Past Presidents):

Raj Chengappa, Group Editorial Director, India Today

N Ravi, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu.

TN Ninan, Chairman, Business Standard.

Alok Mehta, Chief Editor, Outlook.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, TV Today Network.

Mammen Mathew, Chief Editor, Malayala Manorama.

HK Dua, former Editor-in-Chief, The Tribune.

Hari Jaisingh, former Editor, The Tribune.

Ramoji Rao, Chairman, Eanadu, and ETV.

DN Bezboruah, Former Editor, Sentinel.

KN Harikumar, Former Editor, Prajawani

Special Invitee:

Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo, Editor-in-Chief, Greater Kashmir.

Kavita Devi, Digital head, Khabhar Lahariya

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over a Patna High Court order restraining the media from reporting on the investigation into the Muzaffarpur shelter abuse case. A verbal order issued by the division bench of Chief Justice Mukesh R Shah and Justice Dr Ravi Ranjan on August 23 said that till the investigation into the shelter case was completed, all the print and electronic media were restrained from reporting anything with respect to the case, more particularly, with respect to the investigation already undertaken and/or which was likely to take place as it could seriously hamper the investigation of the case.

The Guild is distressed to note that the court, instead of protecting media freedom, has issued an order that has effectively curbed it. It condemns such orders as it believes that such restrictions on reporting on investigations into a matter of public importance are counterproductive. The Guild decries the recent growing trend of courts issuing such restraint orders on the media that undermine one of the pillars of democracy.

It also appeals to the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of India and the Patna High Court to review the restraint order and uphold the principles of a free media and democracy.

The Editors Guild of India offers its condolences on the death of Kuldip Nayar, one of the doyens of Indian journalism and a founder member of the Guild. As the president of the Guild, he provided it with energetic and visionary leadership.

Known to be a reporter’s editor, Kuldip Nayar held many leadership positions in news organisations including The Statesman and The Indian Express, where he provided both edge and depth to its formidable team of reporters and editors. His many legendary news scoops will continue to inspire generations of young journalists for their sharpness, credibility, speed and standards of due diligence. An exemplar, Kuldip Nayar fought through his writings the oppressive Emergency regime that had imposed curbs on media freedom and as a result of which he was also arrested.

A prolific writer and an author of many books, Kuldip Nayar was also a human rights activist and had been appointed India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and later nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha.

The Guild will also soon consider a proposal to honour Kuldip Nayar’s memory and contributions to journalism.

[1] The Editors Guild of India condemns the manner in which the right to practise free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces – some media owners’ inability to withstand political covert or overt pressures from the political establishment and frequent instances of blocking or interference in the transmission of television content that is seen to be critical of the government.

The past few days have seen senior journalists of at least two electronic media channels come out in the open to assert that their employers attempted to either tailor or tone down their content to make it less critical of the government, leaving them no choice other than resigning. At least one such instance has been reported formally in writing to the Guild. These instances are disconcerting.

The Guild decries all attempts on the part of the government to interfere in the free and independent functioning of journalists, either put under pressure directly, or through the proprietors. It also reminds media owners that institutional strength and respect is directly linked to editorial independence and undermining the former can result in curtailing the latter. It urges them to not cow down to political pressure being brought upon them by the government or any other forces. Owners and journalists have an equally shared interest in press freedoms and in resisting pressures.

Even more worrying are the recent instances where signals of television programmes critical of the government have seemingly been blocked or disrupted in a manner almost Orwellian. One TV channel has also shared with the Guild screen-shots and details indicating such interference. Such attempts strike at the root of media freedom and indeed the foundations of our democracy. These undermine the right to be informed and to hold the establishment accountable. This seems a brazen attempt to punish “unfriendly” news channels and silence inconvenient voices.

The Guild demands that the government take note of these instances of disruptions in television programme signals, investigate and explain how and under what circumstances these egregious violations are taking place. Suitable action must be taken against those who were responsible for such nefarious activities aimed at throttling media freedom. It must also assure the nation that either directly or through any proxies or agencies it isn’t involved in this activity. And if it isn’t, these saboteurs must be brought to book. Freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with.

[2] The Guild also decries the tendency on the part of the government, and the political class in general, to use selective denial of journalistic access as a weapon. This has become worse when there are few opportunities to ask questions to those in public life or in official positions on public platforms like press conferences, which is a legitimate democratic right of journalists on behalf of all citizens. Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided.

[3] In a related issue, the Guild decries the “cease and desist” notice served by a large corporate group on some newspapers in an effort to block the coverage of an important Defence deal. The company should withdraw this notice. And if it doesn’t, it should be resisted and. If needed, we hope the courts will weigh in for the right of journalists to investigate and raise questions.

[4] The Editors Guild of India is also pained and agitated to learn of the detention of Shahidul Alam, eminent photographer and educator, in Dhaka under the provisions of the Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh. The Guild understands that Mr Alam’s detention is arbitrary and unreasonable. Highlighting the peaceful protests by school children and young people in Dhaka against the malpractices in the transport sector, resulting in deaths, is not a crime. The Guild stands behind Mr Alam and demands his immediate and unconditional release from detention.

The Editors Guild of India welcomes the specific provisions for journalists in the draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 as they broadly allow media professionals to use sensitive as well as non-sensitive personal data while discharging their duties. 

By placing data gathered for ‘journalistic purposes’ in the exempt list under the proposed law, the Committee headed by Justice B N Srikrishna has also allowed journalists to collect, review and preserve personal data for use in news reports without seeking the consent of individuals. However, the Srikrishna draft says journalists will have to adhere to the code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India or “any media self-regulatory organisation.” The Guild’s Code of Ethics (https://editorsguild.in/code-of-practice/) provides for broad norms. It will also be amended soon for greater clarity.

The Guild also endorses the Srikrishna Committee’s suggestion that the Press Council of India and other media watchdogs should incorporate provisions for data privacy in their code of ethics so that the exemption provided to journalists does not lead to undue violation of the data protection rights of individuals.

The attention of the Editors Guild of India has been drawn to the recent case of the Kollam Police in Kerala registering an FIR against Mr. Venu Balakrishnan, Deputy Editor and Anchor of Mathrubhumi News television channel. This was following a complaint filed by local leaders of DYFI, the youth wing of the ruling CPI (M) under Sec. 153 A of IPC for initiating a discussion on the channel on an incident involving the torture of a young Muslim by the Police and the ruckus in the State Assembly following Police atrocities.

The Guild understands that what Mr Balakrishnan said as an anchor of the show has been taken out of context and made the basis for lodging the FIR. The Guild considers the contemplated Police action against him, based on the FIR, to be reprehensible and an attack on the freedom of the press. The Left-ruled state of Kerala must take note of this unfortunate incident, engineered as it is by a group affiliated to the ruling party, and ensure that the Police is restrained from taking any action that undermines the freedom of the press and the justice delivery system.

The Editors Guild of India condemns the despicable manner in which a barely veiled threat of violence has been issued against journalists by Mr. Lal Singh, an MLA belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party and a former minister in the Jammu and Kashmir government.  Far from condemning the recent assassination of the senior journalist, Shujaat Bhukhari, Mr. Singh in a media briefing warned all journalists in Jammu and Kashmir to “draw a line” unless they wished to be targeted like the slain editor of Rising Kashmir. Such a warning not only betrays Mr. Singh’s deep disregard for the role of the Free Press in a democracy, it also amounts to encouraging physical attacks against journalists in the sensitive state and elsewhere in the country. The Guild demands that the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir should take note of this incitement to violence against journalists and take necessary action against Mr. Singh. The Guild also demands that the BJP should reprimand Mr. Singh, take suitable disciplinary action and ask him to retract the offending statement after offering an apology. The Guild’s attention has also been drawn to the recent instances of how several television channels in Tamil Nadu have been arbitrarily taken off the air for periods ranging between a couple of hours and a few days.The Guild is appalled that an FIR has been registered by the Tamil Nadu police against a reporter and the management of Puthiya Thalaimurai, a Tamil news channel. A case has been slapped under Section 153 A of the IPC (promoting enmity between groups) and other sections of the law on completely unjustifiable grounds. All that the news channel did was to host a roundtable discussion on the protests in Tamil Nadu in which an invited panel aired its views before an audience. The FIR was slapped even before the programme was aired. In the absence of a convincing explanation, this seems a shocking attempt to muzzle dissenting views and intimidate the media.

Other affected television channels have also complained that such blackouts happen after they telecast programmes that were not liked by the Tamil Nadu government, which controls the television channel content distribution agency, Arasu Cable.

While the Tamil Nadu government has assured the media that it has no plans to black out television channels, the dangers to a free and unhindered distribution of television content will continue to lurk as long as the state government controls a channel distribution company accounting for a market share of over 60 percent. This also has the dangerous potential of undermining the functioning of a free media.

The Guild urges the Tamil Nadu government to adhere to the recommendations of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India that bar a government from owning a television channel distribution company. It also urges the government to take necessary steps to ensure that proper regulation is enforced to ensure no unfair or uncompetitive steps are taken by television channel distribution companies.

The Editors Guild of India has condemned the dastardly attack on Srinagar-based senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari on Thursday evening that later led to his death. Mr Bukhari was a voice of moderation and a courageous, big-hearted editor who mentored a large cadre of young journalists from Kashmir. The Guild calls upon the government of Jammu and Kashmir to take urgent steps to bring to book the culprits and ensure safety and security for the media in the state. An attack on a journalist challenges the very foundations of a free press and vibrant democracy and more so in a state like Jammu and Kashmir that is going through militancy. The Guild also calls upon the state and central government to enhance security for all journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. Recent weeks have also seen threats of violence against many journalists in different parts of the country. The killing of Mr Bukhari is a new low in a rapidly deteriorating environment for media practitioners in Kashmir, in particular, and in the country in general. The Guild calls upon the Centre to take note of the developments and take necessary steps to ensure a situation where the media can discharge its duties without any fear of violence. The state and central governments must enhance security for all journalists in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Editors Guild of India has unequivocally condemned the threats of physical violence and viciously abusive online and social media attack against several journalists recently.

Noting that the spirit of democracy can only be kept alive through a free, fair and independent media, the Guild has reiterated that any attempt to physically threaten, or verbally abuse and humiliate those who offer commentary, reportage or analysis can seriously undermine the functioning of our democracy.

Any difference of opinion should be challenged with another set of views and not by a threat of physical violence, or online calumny, it has noted in a statement.

The Guild urges the government at the Centre and in the states to show a much greater sense of urgency to provide protection to the journalists threatened with physical violence and bring to book those, who are issuing such threats. The government must initiate quick action on complaints by these victims and bring the guilty to book. There is no room for laxity here.

Editors Guild of India expresses concern over ‘Cobrapost’ sting, urges media organisations to explain position to readers.

The Editors Guild of India has expressed concern over the claims made by website ‘Cobrapost’ through a ‘sting operation’ conducted on several prominent media organisations.

While the Guild cannot ascertain the veracity of these tapes, it urges the media organisations, whose representatives were purportedly caught engaged in inappropriate conversations, to explain their conduct to their readers and the public at large. They must squarely address the charge that some media organisations seem inclined to sell editorial content for revenue.

The Guild believes that the media is under attack from different quarters in an environment that requires journalists to be extraordinarily vigilant and conscious of the need to adhere to the highest standards of free and fair journalism.

The managements and proprietors should recognise the complex challenges they and their journalists face and respond to them in a way that no one can cast aspersions on their credibility and fairness. Editorial freedoms must be fully respected. Paid news, even a suggestion of it, is ruinous for the media’s image.

There can be no compromise on maintaining the wall between editorial and advertising. All sponsored and advertorial content must be clearly identified and demarcated.

The Guild, would also like to draw attention to the Code of Practice for Journalists adopted by it in 2002 and subsequently revised in 2007.

Clause 19 of the Code of Practice says: “Information should not be obtained through the use of clandestine listening and photographing devices or by intercepting private telephone conversation. Or through misrepresentation or subterfuge (popularly described as sting operations) except when justified only in public interest, and when information cannot be obtained by any other means.”

The Guild stands by these guidelines outlined in the Code of Practice for Journalists. If at all stings are to be carried out, these must be justified as per these norms, following fundamental journalistic principles of full disclosure and fairness.