Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and six journalists were slapped with multiple FIRs in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana for allegedly "misreporting" and "spreading disharmony" on Republic Day when a tractor rally by farmers turned violent in Delhi. All of them face charges including sedition, criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity under the Indian Penal Code.
This is how some leading newspaper editorials expressed their opinion on the incident.
The Indian Express
Headlined , the editorial carried a strapline that said, “Weaponizing the law to book farmers government had engaged with, throwing IPC at journalists is not policy. It wont work.”
The Indian Express made it clear that while booking the miscreants who had caused the violence on Republic Day was an unambiguous fact, “equally unambiguous is the fact that the miscreants are not the movement”.
It added: “When large sections of the media are seen as untrustworthy, unquestioning and partisan, and when their legitimacy is sought to be undermined by populism and majoritarianism on one side and the no-rules world of social media on the other, the onus is on the media. To protect their space and their professional standards with the only tools at their disposal: Fair and accurate news-gathering.”
It also called slapping journalists with sedition and criminal conspiracy a bizarre and troubling moment. The Centre needs to acknowledge the restraints on its own power, protect freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and listen to the farmers, it said.
“Filing FIRs, throwing the IPC book at critics, can never be policy in a democracy,” expressed the editorial.
called the FIR an abuse of law intended to intimidate journalists. It also said that the FIRs were a case of the police fishing for malice where there was none.
The editorial noted: “It is apparent, and also strange, that the complainants and the police have sought to link the violence on January 26 with the circulation of a piece of misleading information for a short period. For one thing, the clashes between some of the protesters and the police had already started when the lone death among the protesters occurred; and, second, the position was clarified in a short while.”
The Hindu called this "part of the now-familiar practice of weaving a narrative of an imagined threat to national security”.
It said: “There is little doubt that the registration of cases in two States different from the place where the farmer-protester's death occurred indicates an attempt to build a narrative that media misreporting led to some of the violence that day. It also shows a tendency not to miss an opportunity to harass and intimidate journalists.”
The Times of India
The Times of India’s stance was made clear in its editorial headlined . The newspaper called the action a clear case of intimidation rather than any genuine concern for rule of law.
To construe these actions as malicious and intended to destroy communal harmony and incite violence, the newspaper said, equates to shooting the messenger.
It went on to say that repurposing sedition against journalists negated one of the founding tenets of our democracy which is allowing the media to report without fear or favour. “The press has stood tall alongside the organs of the Indian state in discharging its duties. Likening its watchdog duties to sedition betrays a crooked view of democracy.”
The editorial additionally called upon the Supreme Court to “take cognisance of how its guidelines narrowing the applicability of sedition have fallen on deaf ears.”