We want the government to pass an ordinance that whenever a media person is attacked, it would be considered a non-bailable offence. Only then an element of fear will come. If it can be done for doctors, it can be done for journalists too
Following the attacks on IBN offices by the Shiv Sena, a delegation led by Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN; Nikhil Wagle, Editor of IBN-Lokmat; and Vijay Darda, Lokmat group Chairman, met Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on Saturday. Apart from pressing for stringent action against the masterminds, they demanded an ordinance against attacks on journalists and treating such incidents as a non-bailable offence.
Mr. Sardesai said: “We want the government to pass an ordinance that whenever a mediaperson is attacked, it would be considered a non-bailable offence. Only then an element of fear will come. If it can be done for doctors, it can be done for journalists too.”
Mr. Chavan told journalists outside his residence after the meeting: “All the prominent people from the media have given me a representation on Friday’s attack. I have condemned the attack. I have already instructed the police and they swung into action. We are trying to ascertain the people behind the attacks. Let me assure the electronic and print media and all the people of Maharashtra that we will not tolerate this sort of activity from any political party. The matter is under investigation.”
A committee which looked into attacks on the media would be strengthened and made more effective, Mr. Chavan said. He would meet the committee on Monday or Tuesday. “A Cabinet Minister or the Chief Minister will chair meetings on incidents related to the media in future.”
As for the investigation into Friday’s violence, he said the Home Minister himself was looking into the matter. “We will investigate this thoroughly. Nobody will be spared.”
Meanwhile, the Mumbai police have booked 17 persons on the charge of attempt to murder (Section 307 of the IPC). They were remanded to police custody on Saturday. The police are also on the hunt for Sunil Raut, brother of Sena MP and Saamna Editor Sanjay Raut. “He is the main instigator,” Deputy Commissioner Rajkumar Vhatkar told The Hindu.
The IBN bosses have demanded that the masterminds be brought to book. “This attack is neither the first, nor the last. We want the administration to take the matter as seriously as the Chief Minister has taken. Arresting the attackers is not enough; we want strict action against the masterminds. The fact that several people have been arrested is a good sign, but it needs to be carried through. I was told this [Saturday] morning that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has also taken a serious note of the incident. The Indian Penal Code is before the Chief Minister and the Home Minister, and it is for them to save the image of Maharashtra. They must do it for the sake of the State and of freedom of expression,” Mr. Sardesai said.
Some cable operators reportedly blacked out channels airing Friday’s incident. Mr. Chavan assured the delegation a probe into this too.
Mr. Chavan defended the media’s freedom and guaranteed their safety. “In a democracy every person has the right to express his or her views. However, sometimes people feel reporting is faulty; there are two angles to this. But, that does not mean we can behave in such a manner. Beating people is not our culture and no one has the right to hit the other. If you think the media is wrong, you may approach them and state your opinion. A physical attack amounts to goondagardi [hooliganism].”
While the exact cause for provocation is unknown, Mr. Wagle told The Hindu that it could be the series of programmes the channel ran critical of Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s remarks about cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
“But what is wrong with it [criticising Mr. Thackeray] if you use parliamentary language and stay within the limits of culture? [Sanjay] Raut has said that we have used abusive language, which we haven’t. For the Sena if you say Bal Thackeray is wrong, it amounts to abuse,” he said.
In a show of solidarity, representatives of the media staged a dharna at the historic Hutatma Chowk here. Mr. Sardesai and Mr. Darda also sat in protest. Many of the agitators wore black bands.
The gathering decried Friday’s incident as an attack on democracy. Journalists shouted slogans ‘Democracy Zindabad’ ‘Down with Hitlershahi and Thackerayshahi’. It also demanded a ban on the Sena. The banners proclaimed, ‘This is the end of Shiv Sena’ and ‘We stand for democracy and freedom of expression.’
Mohammed Anees, general secretary of the Movement for Peace and Justice, said the organisation had called for a protest in 15 districts of the State. The TV Journalists Association also participated in the dharna.
Governor S.C. Jamir has called for “ending political patronage to vandalism.” While emphasising the need for objectivity in news, he asked the State government “to take exemplary steps to stop such attacks on the media and mediapersons in the future.”