CPI opposes “anti-media” police amendment

The Communist Party of India, in an article in its newspaper, expressed serious apprehensions about the proposed executive order.

Published - October 26, 2020 12:30 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

The Communist Party of India (CPI) has expressed concern that the recent decision of the government to amend the Kerala Police Act, 2011, could reverse the course on media freedom, muzzle free speech and jeopardise civil liberties.

Last on Wednesday, the government had decided to give the law enforcement more teeth to crack down on the origination and dissemination of defamatory content on varied media platforms.

The administration had justified the move by casting it against the backdrop of several high-profile incidents of defamation of women on social media.

The Cabinet had resolved to request the Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan to promulgate an ordinance to make the crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of ₹10,000 or both.

The new section (118-A) purportedly empowers the police to scour the media and register cases on their own volition in the event of detection of a cognisable offence under the relevant section.

It was unclear whether the CPI Ministers had objected to the ordinance in the Cabinet. However, the party's newspaper, Janayugam , has expressed serious apprehensions about the proposed executive order.

Sources said the article was a bellwether of the CPI's stance in the matter. The party felt that civil society at large and media in particular viewed the proposal with scepticism.

The CPI felt that the government should not ignore the apprehension that the move to bestow the police with the power to examine published content critically and register cases even in the absence of a specific complaint was patently anti-democratic.

Granting the police such questionable freedom might advance the cause of authoritarianism. The High Court had pointed out in May that existing laws were sufficient to curb such malpractice, the party pointed out.

The CPI said that discreditable conduct and extra-judicial action often marked the history of law enforcement in the country. Hence, Kerala's fears about the proposed amendment were not misplaced. The government should arrive at a general agreement with all stakeholders before forging ahead with the amendment, it said.

Journalist unions, opposition parties and human rights activists had decried the proposal earlier. The government has maintained that their fears were incorrect. It said that the amendment targeted slanderous social media and online content, and did not aspire to curb reportage, political satire or commentary.

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