Many across India were hit by an intense lockdown announced in March.
The use of criminal provisions of the law against journalists has "become an unhealthy and despicable trend", the Editors Guild of India said in a statement today as it expressed concern after a police case was filed against two journalists over a a story on the ration delivery system in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi.
"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," a statement issued by the top journalists' body said.
Supriya Sharma, who works for Scroll.in, has been charged with defamation, "negligent act likely to spread infection of disease", and sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act based on a complaint by a woman whose case study was part of a story on the ration delivery system that she had reported from Domari, a village adopted by PM Modi.
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement pic.twitter.com/kjjQ0bt8R5— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) June 19, 2020
"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," the statement further read.
In her complaint, the woman has alleged her case was misreported by the journalist and presented as one of extreme poverty and hunger when that was not the case. The FIR in the case was filed on June 13.
"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 journalists body said in its statement.
"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," it further said.