Bharatiya Janata Party’s national head of Information Technology Amit Malviya is in the news for his tweet where he has cautioned journalists to maintain restraint on their reportage.
“Hope other journos take note,” was the tweet that he posted along with an article stating that BJP MP from Dharwad, Prahlad Joshi has got “Gauri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case”.
The furore began after senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was on Monday convicted in a defamation case filed by BJP MP Prahlad Joshi. She has been sentenced to six months imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 10,000 but an anticipatory bail has kept her away from going behind the bars.
However, it is not just the whip on the journalist that is irking many. It is the ‘warning’ issued to journalists for writing against politicians which has brought Amit Mallya in the dock.
Prahlad Joshi, BJP MP from Dharwad, gets Gouri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case. https://t.co/6DQTYDY1rO Hope other journos take note.
— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) November 29, 2016
Yes, the tweet by Amit Malviya was assertive but did it really sound as a threat to the freedom of speech of media? Are journalists above law? Forcing allegations against a person in a story comes with a baggage of responsibility. That one allegation can cost someone their career and their future.
Remember the case of Delhi girl Jasleen Kaur? This student of Delhi University accused a boy Sarabjit Singh of harassing her verbally. The photo of the incident was splashed across news channels leading to the arrest of the boy. No heed was paid to what Singh said. Days later it was found that the girl fabricated the story.
A strict warning by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) said: “Media howsoever bona fide its intentions are, cannot act as the judge, jury, prosecutor and investigator in regard to any matter pending before a court or under investigation. It should be kept in mind that the reputation or credibility of a person once lost, as a result of a sustained media campaign focus, can never be regained.”
The coverage of the case of Kanhaiya Kumar’s alleged anti-national speech was also highly criticised. It was alleged that ‘serious’ tampering and ‘very special words’ were inserted into at least two out of the seven video clips that were aired on television. The coverage led to the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
In the story that Gauri Lankesh published in her tabloid in 2008, she had termed some BJP leaders as ‘pirates’.
The argument here is not in support of Gauri Lankesh or against the story she published in her tabloid. The argument only and only is that journalists are also open to investigation. The pen has tremendous power and as it is rightly said, with great power comes great responsibility.
As per the basic journalistic ideals, sources are kept anonymous as they may put the ‘source’ in a potential danger. Journalists, therefore, cannot reveal their sources, but the evidence to corroborate a claim need not be kept behind curtains. Let’s not mix sources with evidence. Exactly how we must not mix facts with feelings or opinions.
Gauri Lankesh has most often been vocal about her opposition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On several occasions, she has even called Modi an ‘idiot’ on her Facebook page. Like anyone else, she too has the freedom of speech. She is open to speaking her mind out and that cannot be questioned. But a published article which makes allegations against a person is open to scrutiny. This cannot be called an opinion which may be protected by freedom of speech.
There is nothing wrong in asking for proofs for an article which defames a person. Sources need to be kept a secret, not the evidence.
There have been several cases in the past where people make frivoulous allegations against others in the name of sources. So much so, that the word ‘sources’ has lost its gravity and is often used to mock journalists even in day to day conversations.
Pictures or stories are often floated on social media without verification. The problem comes when such stories are shared by influencers who help in building the opinion of the masses.
A news analysis by BuzzFeed had revealed that during the final three months of the US presidential elections, the stories which did the best on social media were not the ones by prominent news organisations but it was the fake election news stories which were the most read. The intensity of the problem of fake stories going viral is such that Facebook is being pressured to use censorship to wipe out such articles from the platform.
The effect of incorrect news can have drastic consequences. It’s not just the person named who faces the wrath of the allegations, but the media organisation which publishes the story too has a liability. Their credibility is at stake.
The issue of censorship on media was recently debated when a ban was ordered on national news channel NDTV India for coverage of the Pathankot terror attacks. Yes, a ban even if it is for a day or even an hour is unwarranted. The decision was seen as an intrusion by the Central government in the functioning of the media just because it did not agree with the coverage. Instead of resorting to legal remedies, the imposition of a ban without judicial intervention violates the freedom and justice of the fourth pillar of the Constitution.
But saying that journalists should practice caution while writing stories is not a threat. Despite the image of Modi-led government trying to enforce itself on what is being published for and against them, this particular tweet in question does not seem to suggest anything that journalists should be threatened of.