Various media associations have condemned the Noida Police’s move of slapping sedition charges on six senior journalists for their reportage of the farmers’ Republic Day tractor parade.
Hitting out at the Centre, the media organisations have also alleged that the current situation in the country with regards to press freedom is akin to an "undeclared emergency".
Six journalists, editors and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor were booked by the Noida Police on charges of sedition, earlier this week.
An FIR was lodged at the Sector 20 police station in Noida following a complaint by a resident who alleged that "digital broadcast" and "social media posts" by these people were responsible for the violence during a tractor rally by farmers in the national capital.
The journalists named in the FIR are Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath.
At a 'protest meeting' held in Delhi on Saturday, a number of media bodies including the Press Club of India, Editors Guild of India, Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and Indian Journalists Union (IJU) condemned the "practice of filing sedition charges against journalists".
Senior journalist and president of the Press Club of India Anand Sahay alleged the current government "does not care for the notion of democracy" as the smallest voice of criticism may land people in jail.
"Today the atmosphere is such, it's so poisonous, so toxic that anyone who wants to go to the court perhaps is a fool. You know what the result is going to be. Even during the emergency, rules against journalists were not so harsh, I don't recall anybody going in for sedition," Sahay said.
On Thursday, the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Police also filed FIRs for sedition against journalists Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, Vinod K Jose for reporting on the farmers’ protest rallies and the ensuing violence that took place in the national capital on January 26.
Sahay also named some of the journalists who have been proceeded against in recent times including Siddique Kappan from Kerala, Kishore Chandra Wangkhem from Manipur, Dhaval Patel from Gujarat, Rahul Kulkarni from Maharashtra, and Vinod Dua.
DUJ president S K Pande alleged the situation was like an "undeclared emergency”.
“What is happening today is a situation which is an undeclared emergency. People have seen what the emergency was, we are heading for something worse, where if you raise the voice against the powers that are you will be targeted whether through sedition, or filing of FIRs so that you lose desire to fight or feel compelled to call it a day.
"From journalists, to farmers, to trade unionists, to artists, to writers and intellectuals all of them are facing a lockdown of the mouth," Pande alleged.
Editors Guild president Seema Mustafa said the government’s action against journalists are meant to "intimidate and harass" them.
"This is only being done to intimidate, harass, victimise the journalists against whom these cases are being filed. But also to terrorise the professionals as well, to make you think twice, to make you afraid of doing your job, to be worried every time you write, to be looking over your shoulder, and then of course the editors, the proprietors those who control the news to be very reluctant in reporting the news as it is," Mustafa said.
S N Sinha of IJU recalled a recent incident where journalists from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh were charged for reporting on a yoga function. He said that journalists were "society's watchdogs, not the government's lap dogs".
"In today's time, a journalist's duty is to praise the government and if you criticise through a factual story you can be put behind bars. The government wants to hear its praise, but the type of journalism we have done we are the society's watchdogs, not your lap dogs," Sinha said.
Rajdeep Sardesai, who is one of the charged journalists, said that despite the difference of opinion the journalist community needs to come together against the government’s practice of filing serious criminal charges.
"Journalists today are divided into Left, Right, and Centre. I won’t get into that debate. Whether you are journalist in Manipur or Kashmir, or in a Congress-ruled state or a BJP-ruled state, on sedition there should be complete unanimity among every journalist.
"The time has come for all of us to protest in one voice that sedition is an unacceptable charge against journalists. Let us show some solidarity on this issue, we can continue to have disagreement on other issues," he added.
(With PTI inputs)