Press Council of India (PCI) censured the ‘Star of Mysore’ (SOM) for its April 2020 editorial, ‘Bad Apples in the Basket’. In the piece, the Mysore-based news publication purportedly called the Muslim community in India “bad apples”.
A censure by the PCI means that the state government concerned must not advertise in the paper for three consecutive months.
The PCI’s order comes on the basis of a complaint filed on 03.05.2020 by the Campaign Against Hate Speech, a collective that works towards promoting media accountability.
The complaint claimed that “the news agency is promoting and inciting hatred towards the community (Muslims) on the grounds of religion… thereby violating a basic principle of journalism of not to attribute individual actions to a whole community to spread hatred and violence against it.”
An inquiry committee had been constituted by the PCI which recommended censure after hearing both parties involved in the matter.
The committee refused to accept the contentions of the newspaper that the editorial had been published in ‘good faith’ and had been published in the context of the coronavirus pandemic to caution readers against those not following safety protocols.
In its report, the inquiry committee stated that ‘it is of the opinion that this editorial may have been written in the context of Corona pandemic but the conclusion is inevitable that it is targeting one community, i.e. the Muslims’ even though the community had not been explicitly named in the editorial. It refused to accept the apology that had been tendered by the newspaper on April 10, 2020, soon after the publication of the editorial, stating that the ‘apology is not genuine’ and had been tendered only because a mob had surrounded the offices of the newspaper. It called the apology an ‘example of journalism of the worst kind’.
In its irresponsible editorial published on April 6, 2020, the then editor-in-chief KB Ganapathy had written that the ‘the nation is currently hosting an annoying 18 percent of its population self- identifying as rotten apples’ and ‘the unedifying conduct of some sections in the population, marked by their faith and other features including their attire may bring to our mind the analogy of badapples in the basket’.
Advocating for the elimination of a community, the editorial had further stated, ‘An ideal solution to the problem created by bad apples is to get rid of them, as the former leader of Singapore did a few decades ago or as the leadership in Israel is currently doing’. In unequivocal terms the Inquiry Committee found that after these statements, “Nothing more is needed to draw the conclusion that a particular community is targeted”.
The inquiry committee pointed to these excerpts in particular and stated that ‘it is unfair to blame particular community for the spread of pandemic. There were several lapses during the relevant period and we cannot identify people belonging to a certain community as being responsible for those lapses.’
The inquiry committee also highlighted the responsibility of the press to ‘not indulge in such divisive acts’, to ‘spread the message of brotherhood amongst people of all communities’, ‘strengthen India’s unity in diversity’ and ‘desist from publishing inflammatory writings which fan the flames of communalism’. It cited the following provisions under section 4 of Norms of Journalistic Conduct 2020:
The first wave of the pandemic led to especial targeting of Muslim communities across India. This order of the PCI, even though coming after nearly two and a half years of filing of the complaint, follows observations by various high courts of India that the Tablighi Jamaat had been unjustly condemned as responsible for the spread of the pandemic. The vile and hateful reportage by news media, particularly in Karnataka had vitiated the public sphere to such an extent that many Muslims had faced abuse and even violence during the first wave of the pandemic.