The editorial had stated that the ideal solution to the problem created by ‘bad apples’ is to get rid of them.
Calling it “journalism of the worst kind”, the Press Council of India is set to censure the Mysuru daily Star of Mysore for an editorial referring to Muslims as “bad apples” in April 2020.
A censor effectively means that the state government will not give ads to the newspaper for three consecutive months. This could affect business as newspapers primarily depend on government ads for a major chunk of their revenue. However, compliance remains to be seen.
The PCI accepted the findings of the report after its inquiry committee advised the council to severely censure the newspaper. According to PCI sources, the final resolution will take place in February, but it rarely differs from the inquiry findings.
The inquiry committee said that while the editorial may have been written in the context of the pandemic, the conclusion is inevitable that it is targeting one community and blaming it for the spread of Covid.
A complaint was filed on May 3, 2020, by Hate Speech Beda on April 6 that year, alleging that the daily published hateful content against a community.
Headlined “Bad apples in the basket”, the editorial said that “the nation is currently hosting an annoying 18 percent of its population self-identifying as rotten apples” and “the unedifying conduct of some sections in the population, marked by their faith and other features including their attire may bring to our mind the analogy of bad apples in the basket”.
“An ideal solution to the problem created by bad apples is to get rid of them, as the former leader of Singapore did a few decades ago or as the leadership in Israel is currently doing,” it said.
After the complaint, the newspaper had published an apology on Apri 10l and removed the editorial from its website and e-paper. However, the complaint stated that such an apology “does not recognize how the editorial was bad in facts and law” and also does not “unequivocally recognise the reprehensible role played by the newspaper in furthering hate against one particular community, which transcended into real life incidents against the community”.
On May 19, 2020, show cause notices were issued to the editor-in-chief. On January 23, 2021, editor-in-chief KB Ganapathy and editor Govinda Gowda, submitted written submissions, also noting that the former was no longer editor-in-chief. They denied the allegations and said that the editorial was intended to caution the public about public health and that there was “no malafide intention” and the editorial was written in “good faith”. They said that when the editorial was published, sections of readers allegedly misunderstood the content and expressed their concerns.
Govinda further said the matter shouldnt be listed before the inquiry committee in light of the published apology and the “good faith” with which it was published for the “greater good of the public”.
Next month, in another submission, the editors said that the complaint had made much ado about the words “bad apples” and that the editorial had not specified any community.
However, the committee, in its report, said that nothing more was needed to draw the conclusion that a particular community was targeted.
“It is unfair to blame a particular community for the spread of pandemic.There were several lapses during the relevant period and we cannot identify people belonging to a certain community as being responsible for those lapses. In any case, the Press should not indulge in such divisive acts. The Press has to spread the message of brotherhood amongst people of all communities. It has to strengthen India’s unity in diversity' It should desist from publishing inflammatory writings which will fan the flames of communalism.”
The committee said that the editor lost sight of journalistic conduct norms and that the respondents did not want to tender an apology or perhaps wanted to withdraw it. It noted that it was not a genuine apology as the counsel said that it was tendered because a mob had surrounded the newspaper’s office.
“In the article, they are not even trying to mince words and they have clearly even referred to the ideal solution required. This kind of referencing a genocidal advocacy from an editorial itself was disturbing,” said Manavi Atri of Hate Speech Beda. “We’re happy as the order also speaks about how the press should not be fanning communal things, and refers to the specific norms of journalistic conduct that mention this.”
Atri added that bigger corporations can usually get away with a lot more and the pressures in such a scenario were different. “The kind of power that regional media and Kannada media has to shape perception and narratives to impact people here is much more large scale compared to English and Hindi,” she said, explaining why they focus on regional media in the state.
In a statement, the complainant said they welcomed the order and hope that it restrains other newspapers from publishing similar content which could violate the spirit of the constitution and affect communal amity.
“The first wave of the pandemic led to special targeting of Muslim communities across India. This order of the PCI, even though coming after nearly two-and-a-half years of filing of the complaint, follows observations by various high courts of India that the Tablighi Jamaat had been unjustly condemned as responsible for the spread of the pandemic. The vile and hateful reportage by news media, particularly in Karnataka, had vitiated the public sphere to such an extent that many Muslims had faced abuse and even violence during the first wave of the pandemic.”
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.