Report On ‘Doctored Audio’ Of Saad: Now, Press Council Asks Indian Express Why Action Should Not Be Taken Against It

Report On ‘Doctored Audio’ Of Saad: Now, Press Council Asks Indian Express Why Action Should Not Be Taken Against ItHeadline of the Indian Express report 
Snapshot
  • Earlier, the PCI had issued a statement expressing “its concern over alleged threat of criminal prosecution and questioning of” the Indian Express reporter.

The Press Council of India (PCI) has sent a fresh notice to the Indian Express asking why the Council should not take action against it regarding a complaint filed by the Delhi deputy commission of police against the newspaper.

In a show cause notice issued on 20 May to the Editor of Indian Express and its reporter Mahender Marnal, the PCI said,

On a careful consideration of the material on record, I have been directed to call upon you to show-cause in accordance with Regulations 5 (1) of the Press Council (Procedure for Inquiry) Regulations, 1979, as to why the Press Council should not take action under Section 14 of the Press Council Act, 1978.

Read the PCI’s show cause notice here:

The PCI, a statutory body, has given 14 days to the Indian Express editor and reporter to respond.

The letter has also been marked to Joy N Tirkey, the Delhi deputy commissioner of police.

Section 14 of PCI Act, 1978, gives it powers to censure. The section says,

Power to censure - Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by regulations made under this Act...”

The report that is under the scanner was published on the front page of Indian Express’ Delhi edition on 9 May, headlined ‘Tablighi FIR: Police probe indicates Saad audio clip was doctored’.

The report quoted unnamed “sources” as saying that an audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad mentioned in the FIR against him, which suggested that he had asked the Jamaat members not to follow social distancing norms and prohibitory orders, is “doctored”.

The report was rejected by the Delhi Police officially and publicly.

The same day, the official handle of the Delhi Police on Twitter called the report ‘factually incorrect’.

The handle tweeted,

The Indian Express report dated 9.5.20 with an article captioned: Tablighi FIR: Police probe indicates Saad audio clip was doctored — Written by Mahender Manral, is not only factually incorrect but seems to be based on wholly unverified sources and purely conjectural imagination.
The claims made by the reporter regarding the investigation are totally baseless. The Delhi Police does not in any way stand by the story of the reporter, nor has he spoken to any official sources claimed in his report.

To this, the Indian Express carried a note in its 10 May edition saying it ‘stands by the report’.

Subsequently, the Delhi Police called the reporter for questioning.

As reported by the Indian Express itself, the Delhi police sent a notice under Section 160 Cr.PC. to the City Editor and Chief Reporter, “requiring the presence of the reporter on May 11 at the Rohini office of the Crime Branch, Delhi, to produce all relevant documents and material and to join the probe or face legal action under Section 174 IPC — it can result in a prison term and fine”.

The reporter, Manral, indeed went to the Crime Branch office on 11 May.

His questioning prompted the Editors Guild of India (an association of some journalists) as well as PCI to issue statements against the police action.

In a statement, the Guild, whose president is Theprint.in founder Shekhar Gupta, called the Delhi Police action as “egregious and high-handed”, and said it was part of a “growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country”.

The PCI, in a statement released two days after Guild’s, said it “expresses its concern over alleged threat of criminal prosecution and questioning of” the reporter.

It further said that, “Since matter affects the free functioning of the press, while taking suo-motu cognisance of the matter, a Report on Facts of the case is being called for from the Commissioner of Police, Delhi.”

Report On ‘Doctored Audio’ Of Saad: Now, Press Council Asks Indian Express Why Action Should Not Be Taken Against It

The fresh notice by the PCI, however, is in contrast to its earlier position.

When asked about it, PCI secretary Anupama Bhatnagar said the notices are part of an ongoing procedure.

The Express reporter, Mahender Manral, declined to comment on the matter when contacted.

This correspondent wrote a critique of the Indian Express report In question here titled: Police Rebuttal Isn’t The Only Problem With Indian Express Report On Tablighi Head’s Audio. It Seems Intended To Misinform And Mislead.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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