Updated: November 22, 2020 6:33:08 pm
The Editors Guild of India Sunday expressed concerns over the police case against The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim, over a Facebook post which allegedly “incited communal tension” between the tribal and the non-tribal communities in the state.
“Mukhim’s case is a reflection of the larger threats to freedom of speech in India, which operates under an unwieldy framework of laws that are often used indiscriminately by government and law enforcement agencies to muzzle dissent,” the Guild said in a statement.
The Guild had also recently raised the issue of press freedom and safety of journalists with the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Assam.
A police case was filed on July 8 against Mukhim, a Padma Shri awardee, over a Facebook post in which she demanded legal action against a group of youths who allegedly assaulted six non-tribal youths playing basketball in Lawsohtun on July 3.
The complaint was filed by the Dorbar Shnong of Lawsohtun, against whom Mukhim had hit out in her Facebook post. Dorbar Shnongs are traditional Khasi village-governing bodies.
Pointing out Mukhim’s case an example of how multiple legal provisions can be used against free speech and free press, the Guild said, “Several provisions across multiple laws give a handle to government agencies and law enforcement authorities to lodge criminal cases against journalists wherein the criminal complaint procedure itself becomes an exacting punishment, and acts as a deterrent against exercise of free speech.”
The press body also said that it is the prime responsibility of the media “to question the affairs of the government” and “report information, however harsh and disturbing it may be.”
“They cannot be held liable for relaying information that may bring to fore details on fault lines within the society, or for that matter, mismanagement and corruption in government affairs,” the Guild said.
In its statement, the Guild also underlined the need for the higher judiciary to take cognizance of crucial issues that impede freedom of speech. It also said that the judiciary should issue guidelines “to ensure that wanton use of laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press.”
Mukhim had approached the Meghalaya High Court which, refused to quash the police complaint against her, saying that the investigation agency should be given a free hand to probe into the matter.
Earlier this week, Mukhim had resigned as a member of the Editors Guild, in protest against what she called the organisation’s “complete silence” on the High Court ruling.
According to PTI, Mukhim had said that the Guild was silent about her case, while it issued statements condemning the arrest of non-member Arnab Goswami whose arrest was not even on grounds of journalistic pursuits.
The editor was booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. and other provisions of the IPC.
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