Journalists pitch for organising legal aid for colleagues facing FIRs

NEW DELHI, 4 Jul: Senior journalists on Monday suggested organising legal aid in different cities for media persons who have been a “target” of a “plethora of FIRs” and “raids by the Enforcement Directorate.”

The suggestion was made at a meeting organised by the Press Club of India to discuss the challenges faced by the media in the wake of the arrest of Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, stopping Pulitzer winner photojournalist Sanaa Matoo from flying out of the country, and restrictions on journalists on covering government events.

Speaking at the event, veteran journalist TN Ninan said holding meetings and issuing statements are not enough and there is a need for different media associations – print, television, digital and also of varied persuasions – to speak in one voice.

“We need to agree on the basics of press freedom,” Ninan said, adding that there is a need to organise legal aid for journalists facing FIRs.

He suggested setting up a panel of lawyers in different cities to take up cases against journalists.

Senior journalists Siddharth Varadarajan (The Wire), Sandeep Sonkar (Working News Cameramens’ Association), Shobhana Jain (Indian Women’s Press Corps) and SK Pande (Delhi Union of Journalists) spoke at the meeting.

“The plethora of FIRs against many of our colleagues in the recent past and the Enforcement Directorate raids in media offices send an ominous signal to the future of the profession as a whole,” a resolution adopted at the meeting said.

“The arrest of the Alt News co-founder on what we understand is based on exaggerated and trumped up charges. On the other hand, those who actually make hate speeches are moving around freely,” it said.

The resolution also termed “worrisome” the continuation of the Covid-19 restrictions in the press gallery of the Lok Sabha and the central hall of Parliament and the “barring” of visual media during the nomination-filing process of the NDA candidate in the 18 July presidential polls, Droupadi Murmu.

“We request the government to restore access to coverage of government events to the media as before in the interests of a robust democracy. We also reiterate that the Constitution is supreme and it applies to one and all. The cherry picking by law enforcement agencies does send a chilling effect to the media as a whole,” it said. (PTI)