The Supreme Court agreed to hear on Tuesday a plea challenging the arrest of journalist Prashant Kanojia, accused of making objectionable comment against UP CM. The please was filed by Kanojia’s wife on Monday.
An FIR was registered against Noida-based journalist Prashant Kanojia at Hazratganj police station in Lucknow on Friday night in which it was alleged that the accused made “objectionable comments against the CM and tried to malign his image”.
Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside the CM’s office, claiming that she had sent a marriage proposal to Adityanath.
The Editors Guild Sunday condemned the arrest, describing the police action as an “authoritarian misuse of laws” and an effort to intimidate the press.
“The Editors Guild of India condemns the arrest of Noida-based journalist Prashant Kanojia and the editor and the head of a Noida-based television channel, Nation Live ― Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla ― by the Uttar Pradesh government,” the Guild said in a statement.
“Kanojia has been accused of uploading a post on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on social media and the Nation Live head and editor have been charged with having aired a video on the UP chief minister,” it said.
“The police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws,” it added.
In a separate statement, media associations demanded that the UP government should reconsider and withdraw the criminal defamation charges against all three journalists.
“We, the undersigned Media Organisations, express our collective outrage and shock at the manner in which freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, as well as Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla, editor and head of the Nation Live TV channel have been arrested by UP Police,” Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), Press Club of India (PCI), South Asian Women in the Media (SAWM, India), Press Association said in a joint statement.
“The action taken by the UP Police against these three journalists is a clear case of administrative overreach and excessive in proportion by way of application of law. As media-persons, it is our firm belief that journalists ought to conduct themselves responsibly, yet at the same time, we feel that criminal provisions of the defamation law should be taken off the statute books, given their repeated use against journalists and others,” they said in the statement.
The media associations will be taking out a protest against the arrest of Kanojia and other journalists on Monday from Press Club to Parliament.
The Lucknow police issued a press release Sunday confirming the arrest of Kanojia.
The Guild sees it as an effort to intimidate the press and stifle freedom of expression, the statement said.
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 Guild said, adding that 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,” the Guild said in its statement.
To give the police powers to arrest, provisions of Section 66 of the IT Act have also been added, it said.
The FIR in this case is not filed by the person allegedly affected, but suo motu by the police, the Guild noted.
“This is a condemnable misuse of law and state power,” it said.
Some Lucknow-based journalist bodies, however, said Kanojia’s “arrest” will act as a “deterrent” in future for those who do not bother to verify facts.
President of Lucknow unit of Uttar Pradesh Journalists’ Association (UPJA), Bharat Singh, said, “People like him (Kanojia) lack basic journalistic ethics and basic knowledge of journalism. Without verifying and cross-checking facts, he has published a story against the chief minister of a state. Is this journalism? You have taken the allegations levelled by a woman on their face value and did not even bother to get these authenticated before running the story.”
“The arrest of the journalist will act as a deterrent for others in future,” he added.
President of Lucknow Working Journalist Union, Shivsharan Singh Gaharwar, echoed similar sentiments.
“The act of the said journalist was definitely wrong, as he shared the objectionable content of the video without verifying facts. Without verifying or confirming the facts, one should refrain from publishing or broadcasting a story,” he said.
According to the verified Twitter handle of Kanojia, @PJkanojia, he is alumnus of IIMC and Mumbai University and is associated with some media organisations.