Photo Source: Press Council of India Twitter, Hate Speech Beda Twitter, Vijay Karnataka Twitter

The Press Council of India on Thursday issued a bailable warrant against the editor of the Vijay Karnataka, a daily newspaper, for failing to appear when summoned regarding an anti-Muslim news story published in March 2020

A voluntary group of lawyers, writers, activists named Hate Speech Beda (Campaign Against Hate Speech) who claim to be a “collective to combat hate speech. A collective for an informed citizenry” filed the complaint against the newspaper. 

Vijay Karnataka, along with its sister publications Vijay Times, is owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the same publishers of The Times of India. 

On May 11, 2020, the organisation Hate Speech Beda had approached the Press Council of India against a news story titled -“All those who have died from Coronavirus are from the same community – Why do they still come together in the name of prayers?” the group tweeted.  

The group claimed that the article was a “direct violation” of the “norms of Journalistic Conduct of the PCI”. Under Section 15A of the Press Council of India Act, the “Council shall have the same powers throughout India as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908” with respect to summoning and enforcing the attendance of persons and examining them on oath, among others. Hate Speech Beda also mentioned that the Press Council of India is “entrusted to hold all print media accountable.”

The Press Council of India issued the bailable warrant for Rs 5000 after the editor of Vijay Karnataka failed to appear before the Council despite multiple summons. 

Hate Speech Beda tweeted that Vijay Karnataka’s refusal to respond to the summons shows its “callous disregard” for the Council which is “unacceptable” as the newspaper is “legally duty bound” to appear when summoned and it shows the “lack of accountability and seriousness that such a widely read newspaper has towards its readers”.

“They must answer for every word they published,” Hate Speech Beda wrote.

Declaring the issuance of the bailable warrant a win, the voluntary organisation tweeted: “While the matter remains to be finally decided, we must celebrate this show of teeth by the Press Council of India mandating Vijay Karnataka’s appearance. Now Vijay Karnataka must appear and  @CPBlr (Kamal Pant, IPS) must ensure compliance of this order.”

They wrote that they are aware of how the media houses acted with “impunity” and “communalised” the pandemic in 2020, and this warrant will be a reminder to the accused newspaper “is not above the law and like everyone else they will be answerable for what they publish. This is a win for all the brave fighters of media impunity!”

“We are not helpless, we can and we will hold media accountable,” Hate Speech Beda added.