FIR against journalist Vishweshwar Bhat is a tactic to ‘muzzle the media’

M Raghuram | May 28, 2019 | 5 min read


State government invites media ire for FIR against Karnataka journalist

By M. Raghuram

Bangalore: Over the last six months, the Karnataka government has targeted 14 journalists, the latest being Vishveshwar Bhat, Editor, Vishwavani, a Kannada daily, and his colleague (NAME?). An FIR was filed against Bhat and his colleague for an article published in Vishwavani about the tiffs between the Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy's son, Nikhil Kumaraswamy and his grandfather, former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda.

All 14 journalists invited the wrath of the government by writing articles against the ‘first family’ of the state or being instrumental in reporting such information. In these cases, the government has used the police to clamp down on the media by filing complaints, generating FIRs and having the journalists arrested. Speaking about his experience, Bhat said, “The government has not followed the conventional method of sending a rejoinder to the publication about any errors made. Instead, they are filing defamation cases and getting journalists arrested. The article published in Vishwavani was about the CM's son visiting his grandfather following his poll defeat in Mandya and the heated exchange that followed. The report was an account narrated by my sources, and is credible. I remember in the last 12 cases, the police have been involved in taking drastic action against the media.”

Bhat argued that the hasty way in which the FIR was lodged by a Janata Dal (Secular) party member and the absence of any official rejoinder from the government makes it evident that these are tactics being used to muzzle the media. On May 25, Vishwavani featured an article about an incident where Nikhil met Deve Gowda and complained about being defeated by Sumalatha Ambareesh, wife of Kannada actor, Ambareesh, in Mandya, that is considered to be a JD(S) stronghold. The heated exchange reportedly happened in the presence of a few party leaders and family members.

S.P. Pradeep Kumar, Chief of JD(S) legal cell filed an FIR filed against Bhat and his colleague at the Srirampura Police Station under IPC Sections 506, 420, 468 and 268. “All the sections under which an FIR was filed against my colleague and I are not relevant to the case. Section 268 carries a seven-year jail term, Section 420 is for cheating and Section 468 is for forgery. The JD(S) legal cell did this to deter journalists. The state has slipped into an FIR culture and the procedure of law has been conveniently bent to suit the political powers that be. I will fight the case,” said Bhat.

The JD(S) legal cell officials claimed that the article was intended to defame Nikhil and his family. They also alleged that Vishwavani is said to have carried out a vilification campaign against the government. Legal expert, S.P. Chengappa said, “In such instances only defamation cases can be filed against the media. I do not understand how or why these multiple sections can be applied to Bhat's case.”

The MLAs of JD(S) in Mandya and Mysore remained tight-lipped about this alleged incident. However, the local media and many journalists' associations and unions have condemned the action taken by the CM. In a letter to the chief minister, Shivanand Tagadooru, President, Karnataka Union of Working Journalists wrote, “The police complaint against the editor is highly unnecessary, it reeked of hatred and intolerance towards the media. The CM should have asked the editor and the management of the paper to correct the news and carry a rejoinder. If there was false news intended to defame the CM that could invite such police action under relevant sections.” Tagadoor also recalled that, “In the past when journalists faced such problems, the CM had acted more graciously and in a friendly manner. I doubt if this incident was even brought to your notice by your advisers. Please try to examine it objectively and take necessary steps. Hatred and vindictive action will not augur well for the healthy relationship between the media and the government in a democracy.”

In 2008, B.V. Seetharam, Editor, Canara Times and Karavali Ale group in Mangaluru had also been subjected to similar charges, drawing parallel to the case against Bhat. Seetharam said, “In defamation cases, the state has no role to play, the present government has misused the provisions of law by political arm-twisting of the police. In an ideal situation, Nikhil should have filed either a civil or criminal case for defamation or libel or slander. Instead, a person who has no connection to the issue has filed an FIR and the police acted on it.”

According to the Srirampuram police, a complaint has been lodged against Bhat and his colleague, and they are investigating it as required. Sources in JD (S) said that the CM may not have the editor arrested, but he wanted to show journalists his political power and send out a warning to not report about his family.

This case has also been trending across social media platforms with the hashtag #EmergencyinKarnataka. Talks are on that the Indian Union of Working Journalists will also take up the issue with the Karnataka government.  

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