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Press Note

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The PUCL, Rajasthan, condemns the vindictiveness of the Rajasthan Government led by CM Ashok Gehlot, which has sanctioned the lodging of FIR number 180/2020, dated 1st October, 2020, Police Station Vidhayakpuri, against two senior journalists, Sarat Kumar of Aaj Tak (Rajasthan Aaj Tak) and Lokendra Singh (XYZ news Channel).

These two journalists have been targeted for reporting about an alleged phone tapping incident of MLAs who were rounded up in Jaislamer, by the Congress party, during August 2020, when there was open confrontation between CM Ashok Gehlot Vs Dy CM Sachin Pilot in the months of July and August It has been alleged that the journalists planted these stories to disturb public tranquility and create animosity between groups.

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This is nothing but an attack on free speech governed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution and the rights of privacy of the journalists, which is not just individual privacy but also related to their profession.

The PUCL believes that the lodging of FIRs is a clear case of misuse of the power by the political executive, who are using the police authorities under them to criminalise the acts of the journalists.

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The PUCL is clear, that if there was a grievance, then the Congress party and the Rajasthan police, which is also one of the aggrieved parties of the broadcast, as it was alleged that senior IPS officers were involved in the phone tapping, should have moved the Press Council of India, which does look at broadcasting violations too and the News broadcasting authority, the self regulatory body of broadcasters.

This tendency of filing FIRs and criminalising journalists, here, under section 505 (1)(B) and 505 (2) and Section 76 of the IT Act, shows the desperation of the police and the political masters. We would like to ask the Cyber cell and the Jaipur police, as to what was the need to book the persons under the IT Act Section 76, simply as it makes it easier for the police to confiscate the computer equipment and mobile phones of the journalists.

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The attempt is clearly to seize their data and intrude on their sources as journalists.

The PUCL would also like to make a larger point about violation of the Telegraph Act, under which phone tapping is regulated. The sanction to tapping was defined by the SC judgement in the PUCL V/S UOI case of 1995, which was further amended by the SC where the sanction to tapping by the Home Secretary could be handed over to an officer not less than the rank of an IG, only in unavoidable and emergency purpose(read rule 4198 of the Telegraph act).

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It is the belief of the PUCL that all Governments today are misusing their power and illegally conducting tapping of phones and indulging in massive surveillance acts, defying both privacy and the Telegraph law.

The PUCL demands an immediate closure of FIR 180/2020, Vidhayakpuri Thana.

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We also demand that the Rajasthan Government, come clean on the issue of phone tapping and win the trust of the people of the State, that their privacy is protected and that the political and bureaucratic executive is not misusing their position.

This is not the first case where journalists have been targeted in Rajasthan in the last three months. Mukehs Fauzdar, of Raj Gharana TV, from Nadbai, Bharatpur district was also booked under 505 1(B) and the Indian Epidemic Act, in the month of June, for allegedly spread misinformation on the pandemic. I took the journalist more than 80 days to get a stay on the FIR.

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It is our demand that the Rajasthan Government, stop attacking journalists. It is also our appeal to all journalists, that they should also do a thorough job of verifying before putting their news in the public domain, as the media today, is the most powerful in building public opinion and the people have to right know, the truth.

Kavita Srivastava
Anant Bhatnagar
(General Secretary, pucl) [email protected]

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