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Courting The Law: Journalist, TV Channel Head, Owner Arrested In India Over Content

A recent PEW poll shows many in emerging economies (e.g. South Asia) see social media as having given them political voice but at the same time having increased the risk of manipulation.

Freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia

DESPARDES News Monitor — An Indian freelance journalist was arrested in Delhi by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) State police Saturday for sharing on social media an unverified content on Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

The same evening, the head of a private television news channel and its editor were arrested for airing allegedly defamatory content on the Indian monk and Hindu nationalist politician serving as UP’s current Chief Minister since March 2017.

Journalist Prashant Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organizations outside the Chief Minister’s office, claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal.

“Does this amount to curtailing freedom of speech or will it help encourage people to verify news stories first?”, tweeted Taimur Malik, a lawyer by profession and Founder of @CourtingTheLaw. “How many in Pakistan would be arrested if the law/law enforcement took the same position here?”

He was charged with defamation and making statements conducive to public mischief.

In a separate case, the head of private television news channel Nation Live and its editor were arrested in Noida on Saturday.

During a debate on the channel on June 6, the woman, whose video was shared by Kanojia, had allegedly made defamatory statements against Adityanath, the police said.

Ishika Singh, who heads the channel and Anuj Shukla, its editor, were arrested after workers affiliated to a political party approached the police with a complaint against the news channel for broadcasting the claims of the woman without verifying facts, a senior official said.

“This could have led to a possible law and order situation,” police officer Vaibhav Krishna said.

During investigation, it was also found that the channel did not have any licence to operate, he said. An additional complaint over the alleged illegal operation of the channel was made by a district official in Noida. “They have been arrested on both counts for the defamatory content as well as illegal operation of the channel,” the police officer told news agency PTI.

On Friday, a unit of Bihar Police searched a journalist’s house and seized his mobile phone, laptop and some “Naxal literature”.

Rupesh Kumar Singh, 33, is a social activist and independent journalist.

On June 4, Rupesh, Mithilesh Kumar Singh, 45, social activist and lawyer and his driver, Mohammad Kalam, 42, went missing in Gaya, Bihar.

Social media in the region, specially India and Pakistan serves as an effective medium and has led to emergence of a huge and vibrant community for activism and dissent.

A recent PEW poll shows many in emerging economies (South Asia is one) see social media as having given them political voice but at the same time having increased the risk of manipulation (see graphics above).

A Pakistani lawyer active on social media weighed in the Indian story and drew parallel.

“Does this amount to curtailing freedom of speech or will it help encourage people to verify news stories first?”, tweeted Taimur Malik, Founder of @CourtingTheLaw. “How many in Pakistan would be arrested if the law/law enforcement took the same position here?”

“Many,” say several independent observers, who believe the domains of party politics, pressure groups and social media are morphing into one in both countries for lack of rule of law and civic sense.

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