On June 29, the Popular Front of India, or PFI, filed a defamation suit in a Delhi court against Zee Media Corporation Ltd. The suit was in the context of a show on Zee Hindustan that claimed the organisation “funded” Rohingyas to “create fake identity cards”.
The suit named Zee Media’s chief executive officer and editor-in-chief Purushottam Vaishnavi and two Zee Hindustan anchors, Shalini Kapoor Tiwari and Anjeet Srivastava. It sought Rs 1 lakh as damages for “maligning” PFI’s reputation, the removal of the show from the channel’s YouTube and Facebook pages, and a “permanent injunction” restraining those named in the suit from “further tarnishing” its image.
On July 6, civil judge Aviral Shukla issued a notice to all the defendants. The matter is slated to be heard on August 12.
Zee Hindustan’s show in question, “Khabron ke Khiladi”, with the headlines “Rohingya ko PFI UP bhej raha hai” (PFI is sending Rohingyas to UP) and “Dekhiye PFI ke sabse badi saazish” (Watch PFI’s biggest conspiracy).
The show stated that the Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorism squad had arrested 11 Rohingya Muslims originally from Myanmar in the “last few days”. While both and reported on this, that the anti-terrorism squad had arrested two Rohingya men for “living illegally in India”. noted they had been “living on forged documents”.
Meanwhile, according to Zee Hindustan, one of the arrested men had “links” to the PFI. The channel used this to claim that Rohingya Muslims are “funded” by the PFI and, ahead of the state assembly election, the PFI was “creating fake voter cards and Aadhaar cards” to use the Rohingya Muslims as a “vote bank”.
“Accused Noor Alam used to take a lot of money and then help Rohingyas enter Uttar Pradesh illegally after making fake Indian IDs,” the voiceover said. “This money was given by the PFI.”
The report continued: “Ahead of the UP election, a big conspiracy has been busted. UP ATS has arrested 11 Rohingyas who were a part of this conspiracy. The PFI is behind it...Two Rohingyas have revealed that the PFI is giving protection to the Rohingya intruders. Ahead of the UP assembly election, PFI is trying to shift the Rohingyas in the state, so that it can forge their ration cards and PAN cards and add them to the voter list.”
In its complaint, the PFI called the broadcast “false, vexatious, fictitious, obnoxious and objectionable” and “contrary to the truth”. It added that the show built a “negative and anti-national image” in order to “cause damage” to its reputation.
The PFI’s advocate Shakeel Abbas told Newslaundry that the “false and frivolous accusations” were made with the intention of “causing prejudice” and “besmirching [the] name, goodwill and image of PFI”.
“In the telecast, the channel and the anchors showed pictures of the PFI along with Rohingya people with malafide intentions,” he said. “All accusations and news reporting made in the show are false, fabricated and concocted...The media should do the bare minimum by at least verifying the news they run and back it up with evidence. Unverified news only tarnishes the image.”
As pointed out by Abbas, Uttar Pradesh’s additional director general of police, law and order, that there was “no evidence” so far to link the PFI with Rohingya “creating false IDs”.
Addressing the media, ADG (law and order) Prashant Kumar said that the ATS busted a gang of agents who arranged forged papers for the Rohingyas and arrested four Rohingya Muslims who were allegedly staying illegally in UP. When asked by a reporter if any link with the PFI was established, he said: “No such thing as PFI or terrorism has come to the fore in this case.”
Abbas said the PFI sent Zee Hindustan a legal notice on June 25 asking for an apology and the removal of the show from YouTube and Facebook. A copy of the notice was also sent to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority asking that action be taken against the channel. He claimed they received no response from the channel and the NBSA.
Anis Ahmed, the general secretary of the PFI, claimed Zee Hindustan’s allegations were an attempt to “create suspicion” about the organisation. Since 2017, he added, several news channels have referred to the PFI as a “banned organisation”. The PFI is not banned.
The organisation has also filed complaints in the past about misinformation by news channels. In 2017, it against India Today, Republic TV, Aaj Tak and Times Now, accusing the channels of “continuously telecasting myths, false allegations, blanket lies, substandard news” with “ulterior motives”. The NBSA had of the PFI and directed all four channels to take down their broadcasts.
Ahmed told Newslaundry that in this case, they chose to approach the court rather than the NBSA because he does not think the NBSA has “control” over the media anymore.
“The entire institution that controls the media has been diluted and that is the reason the judiciary has to intervene,” he said. “The larger message we want to give through this suit is that there should be a check on the media. They don’t have the right to defame anyone just on the basis of some suspicions. They cannot sensationalise the issue for TRPs.”
Newslaundry sent a detailed questionnaire to Mayank Aggarwal, senior manager, strategy and planning, at Zee Media Corporation Limited. This report will be updated if we receive a response.