Press Council of India ruling on Geetaben article
PRESS COUNCIL OF INDIA
Soochna Bhawan 8-C.G.O Complex Lodhi Road New Delhi-110 003
COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN GUJARAT- ROLE OF THE MEDIA
(Adjudications rendered on 30.6.2003 in 24 cases)
1. Shri Sharad C. Mishma, Versus The Times of India,
2. Dr. DN. Gadhok, Mumbai.
3. Shri Har Dayal Bhalla
4.Shri D.C. Gupta,
Shri Sharad C. Mishma, Former Economic Adviser, Ministry of Railways, Government of India, (ii) Dr. D.N. Gadhok, Former Director, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, (iii) Shri Har Dayal Bhalla, Former General Manage’, Western Railway and (iv) Dr. D.C. Gupta, Former President, Birla Yamaha & Indian Tools Ltd. Mumbai filed this joint complaint dated 23.4.2002 against the Times of India, Mumbai edition alleging transgression of the norms of journalistic ethics.
The complainants submitted that by publishing an article captioned: “The Mask is Off-A Tale of Two Hindus” by Siddharth Varadarajan on 19.4.2002 and a report captioned: “UK mission report may put Modi in dock” on 20.4.2002, the respondent, Times of India has violated the norms of journalistic conduct prescribed by Press Council of India which enjoin on the Press to eschew publication of inaccurate, baseless, graceless, misleading or distorted material.
The box to the impugned article captioned: “The Mask is off” states “a Hindu woman killed for saving hem Muslim friend in Gujarat has shown more courage and dignity than Prime Minister Vajpayee… BJP’s project of ‘Hindu’ separatism will bring disaster to Indians… The attack on Gujarat’s Muslims is an attack on all Indians”.
The complainants have submitted that in the impugned article, “the macabre description of Geetaben’s dead body is imaginary based on her photograph reportedly sent by the resident editor of the Times of India two weeks ago. From the strident tone of the article it is felt that the author had deliberately gained time to equip himself for the competitive race in Modi-bating projecting himself and the newspaper he works for as the champion of the so called secularism. Rather than trying to restore communal harmony he has tried to open the old wounds. No evidence has been adduced in the article to authenticate the description of the lady having been stripped, dragged naked and killed due to her having been in love with a Muslim boy nor has the reported stated that he was himself an eyewitness to the incident.” The complainants have submitted that the “author’s intention is malafide to discredit the Hindu Community as a whole. His article has helped to add fuel to the communal fire raging in Gujarat.”
Regarding the second impugned news item captioned: “UK mission report may put Modi in dock” - “Riots victims families could move British courts to try Gujarat CM”, the complainants have submitted that the author has deliberately tried to internationalize the role of Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister for allegedly engineering the Gujarat riots by using sensational remarks. The author has deliberately added international dimensions to the case and is thus guilty of spoiling India’s friendly relations with other countries and tarnishing her fair image in the world.
The complainants have submitted that being responsible citizens of India they have filed this complaint in public interest and have requested the Council to inquire into the matter and to take action against the respondent newspaper for tarnishing the fair image of the country in general and Hindu community in particular which believes in the philosophy of the Sarv Dharm Sambhav, both within the country and outside.
Comments of the respondent The Times of India, Mumbai were invited on 13.6.2002. There was no response.
Appearance before the Inquiry Committee
When the matters were called out for hearing before the Inquiry Committee at Ahmedabad on 28-29th April 2003, neither the complainants nor the respondent appeared before it. The complainants had, by a letter dated April 17, 2003 expressed their inability to appear before the Committee due to their old age. They had requested the Council to take appropriate action in the matter on the basis of the material already sent by them.
Recommendations of the Inquiry Committee
At the outset the Inquiry Committee noted the absence of the Times of India and observed that it expected better co-operation from leading newspapers. It expressed its displeasure over the callous attitude of the Times of India in neither filing the written statement in response to the Council’s letter dated 13.6.2002 nor being represented before the Inquiry Committee to defend their case. The Committee then proceeded to consider the matter on its merits. The Committee carefully perused the articles. It was of the view that the impugned articles cannot be equated to news items. The author has, in the said articles, given his opinion on the situation and in doing so incidentally commented on incidents reported by various fora and also referred to the views expressed by many responsible people on the course of action followed by the governmental machinery. The Committee opined that the newspaper could not be faulted for giving space to the opinion of the author, who was, as a citizen, as much entitled to his opinion, as any other citizen. Hence, it felt that no further action is warranted in the matter. It recommended to the Council accordingly.
Foot Note: Ms. Sabina Inderjit, member did not participate in the deliberations on account of her association with the Times of India.