The Press Council of India (PCI) on February 25, 2021 issued a bailable warrant of arrest for a sum of Rs.5000 against Vijay Karnataka, a Kannada daily. This order was issued following a complaint filed by the Campaign Against Hate Speech (CAHS). In March 2020 this widely read daily published an article titled “All those who have died from Corona are from the same community – why do they still come together in the name of prayers?”. This article was published on March 28, 2020 and had directly attacked the Muslim community and blamed them for the cause and spread of the virus. At the height of the pandemic, such articles, which were without any basis, were responsible for creating an environment of hate against the minority community; this hate translated into real-life violence against members of the community, noted the CAHS.
CAHS had approached the PCI on May 11, 2020 seeking action against Vijay Karnataka for publishing such an article which according to the campaign had communal undertones. The campaign that is relentlessly working in the state towards making the media accountable for their reporting approached PCI on the grounds that the article violated the Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2019. The Section 4 of Part A (Principles and Ethics), titled Caste, Class and Religion references, states,
It is the duty of the newspaper to ensure that the tone, spirit and language of a write up is not objectionable, provocative, against the unity and integrity of the country, spirit of the constitution, seditious and inflammatory in nature or designed to promote communal disharmony. It should also not attempt to promote balkanisation of the country.
The Section 5 of Part A titled Caution Against Defamatory writing states,
It is necessary that the press realise its responsibility to the society due to the unique position enjoyed by it in being able to interact directly with the citizenry and utilize its advantageous position for the betterment of the society and the advancement of the country rather than indulging in giving credence to rumours and sensationalism.
Surpassing these norms of ethical journalism, the article in question went on to say, for example, ‘the first person who died of corona had returned from Mecca. Women from Chikkaballapura who died had also visited Mecca. The person who died in Tumkur had returned from Delhi after visiting Jamia Masjid. These people had contacted multiple people after their arrival to their respective places.’ The article also said, ‘all three who died of Corona and most of the Corona infected in the state (Karnataka) belong to the same community. Members of this community have been lathi charged several times by the police as they have violated state-imposed curfew.’ Singling out the Muslim community in the state the article wrote ‘Hindus and Christians have respected the curfew and stopped visiting temples and Churches. However, members of the mentioned community are still offering Namaz by gathering in large numbers and are strolling by breaching the state-imposed curfew. This has led to anxiety among the residents.’
CAHS had sent a notice to the editor of Vijay Karnataka on April 11, 2020. The notice had said,
‘we request you to take appropriate action by remedying the damage caused by such a news article by tendering a public revocation and apology for the same, and clarifying all the relevant facts appropriate to the news item. Moreover, we request that in future publications, the news agency/newspaper desist from spreading communal hatred and disharmony. We request you to reply to this notice forthwith, failing which we will be forced to file a complaint under Section 14 of the Press Council of India Act, 1978 with the Press Council of India to take appropriate action against your news agency/newspaper.’
However CAHS received no response and thus approached the PCI with its complaint. in its complaint it has asked that the PCI censure the newspaper for the article and also direct the newspaper to issue a public apology.
The order of the PCI which is a statutory body entrusted to hold print media accountable mandates the attendance of the editor of Vijay Karnataka. PCI has also directed the Commissioner of Bangalore City Police to ensure compliance of the order. Summons had been issued to the newspaper twice, and yet no representative has appeared in the last two hearings conducted by the PCI.