The Press Council of India (PCI) has issued a bailable warrant against the editor of Vijaya Karnataka, for not appearing in proceedings against the paper for an article published in March 2020. Vijay Karnataka is owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd., who are also the publishers of the Times of India.
The article criticised the Muslim community and blamed it for the spread of the coronavirus. (“All those who have died (from coronavirus) are from the same community – Why do they still come together in the name of prayers?”).
The PCI is a statutory body that holds print media accountable and has powers of censuring – barring all government agencies from placing advertisements in the newspaper.
The PCI has the powers under Section 15 A of Press Council of India Act which states that it shall have the “same powers throughout India as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908” in matters related to summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath. The hearings by the PCI, which were presided by a retired Supreme Court judge, issued orders for a bailable warrant against the editors
of the newspaper asking them to appear for the next hearing. The PCI examined the case based on a complaint by the Campaign Against Hate Speech, a group formed in early 2020 over concerns about the reportage on the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest. The group was particularly alarmed when young people like Amulya Leona, Ardra Narayanan and Nalini Balakumar were charged
with sedition in Karnataka and the reportage about their cases contained hate speech and calls for violence against the young student activists.
The complaint was filed in May 2020 by Campaign Against Hate Speech, a voluntary group of lawyers, writers, activists. The group stated that it approached the PCI since such articles created an environment of hate against Muslims and this hate translated into real-life violence against the members of the community.
Earlier, the group filed a complaint against the Mysuru-based newspaper Star of Mysore for an editorial titled – ‘Bad apples in the basket’ – which similarly attacked the Muslim community. A line in the editorial read, “The nation is currently hosting an annoying 18 percent of its population self-identifying as rotten apples”.
The editorial also called for genocide and made multiple references to ‘getting rid’ of the ‘bad apples’. “An ideal solution to the problem created by bad apples is to get rid of them, as the former leader of Singapore did a few decades ago or as the leadership of Israel is currently doing,” the editorial read. It is to be noted that the Star of Mysore issued an apology for its editorial and termed it a ‘lapse of judgement’.
In addition to the complaints against newspapers, the Campaign Against Hate Speech filed complaints against three news channels – Times Now, News18 Kannada and Suvarna News for airing programmes that targeted muslim community of spreading corona virus from Tablighi jamaat held in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz.
WRITTEN BY: Ayesha Siddiqua