It’s not just migrant workers being targeted by the State, due to their organizational failures but also the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has acted as a cover to all the journalists being targeted for expressing their power of free speech. With arrests, custodial tortures, FIRs, and show-cause notices, according to a report at least 55 media persons facing the brunt for their reportage. Between March 25 and May 31 the report – “India: Media’s Crackdown during COVID-19 lockdown” stated about the backlash the media persons got from the state due to their expressions of freedom and putting their opinion out there.
Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 11 journalists facing action followed by Jammu and Kashmir, five in Himachal Pradesh and four each in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, and Maharashtra, according to the report prepared by a private watchdog ‘Rights and Risks Analysis Group’ (RRAG).
Double in Punjab, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala each while one person each from the media were targeted in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Nagaland, and Telangana. Altogether, journalists faced action in 19 states and one union territory. India has 28 states and eight union territories.
RRAG Director Suhas Chakma alleged that the Centre from the outset of the pandemic sought to suppress press freedom under the garb of deliberate or inaccurate reporting on COVID-19. However, he said, the Supreme Court refused to interfere when the Centre suggested so.
The cases were filed for “reporting starvation faced by the migrant workers, the failure of the administration to supply rations to migrant workers…mismanagement and negligence at quarantine centers, or simply reporting a minister following the suggestions of astrologers or using certain terms against the ruling party or criticizing Chief Ministers”, the report said.
FIRs were registered against at least 22 journalists under the Indian Penal Code, Information Technology Act, Disaster Management Act, Motors Vehicles Act, and Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
At least 10 journalists were arrested on charges of spreading misinformation and violating lockdown rules and for reportage exposing corruption and shortage of food and personal protective equipment (PPE). Four others, including