ABP scribe arrest: NBA writes to Maha CM; calls it assault on freedom of press

The news industry has expressed its concerns over the arrest of Rahul Gurunath Kulkarni, a senior journalist with ABP Majha, in Mumbai yesterday (April 15, 2020) regarding a huge gathering of migrant labourers at Mumbai’s Bandra West station. Rajat Sharma, President, News Broadcasters Association (NBA), has written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thakrey requesting for dropping of charges and release of Kulkarni and to adopt the recourse of filing complaint before the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA).

Meanwhile, in a statement issued, an ABP News Network spokesperson, defended Kulkarni and asserted, “There are several reports purporting to draw a connection between the gathering at Mumbai’s Bandra West station and a news story run on ABP Majha. The reports are entirely misconceived and are being circulated with the sole intention of baselessly maligning ABP Majha.”

He insisted that the channel’s news story was broadcast in public interest and on the basis of valid documents and information. “Subsequent to the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s announcement at 10 am of the continuation of the lockdown and announcements thereafter from the Ministry of Railways with regard to cancellation of trains and refunds till May 3, 2020, we ran multiple stories, starting from shortly after the Railway Ministry’s announcement starting from12:30 pm to 1.30 pm, on our channel clearly announcing that no trains will be running. There is no conceivable way in which the crowds that gathered at the Bandra West Station from around 3:45 pm can be linked to our stories,” he added.

Continuing further, the statement said that to insinuate that the channel’s running of the story and the updates thereafter amounted to a criminal act, was outrageous. “We are shocked and dismayed that our reporter Rahul Kulkarni has been arrested in connection with the story. We will be taking necessary and immediate steps in law. We can say with full confidence that we have not deviated from practices of responsible journalism. Journalism and media are essential services. There is no denial of the Railway Ministry’s letter of 13.4.2020 recommending running of trains to return migrant labourers to their hometowns.”

The spokesperson affirmed that ABP News Network makes every possible good faith endeavour to ensure the accuracy of its information and news from credible sources before broadcasting the same. “Consequently, despite the morning news before the PM’s speech, shortly after the Railway Ministry announcement that no trains will run till 3rd May, 2020, we immediately started running the story on our channels as a responsible media institution,” the statement said and insisted, “We would like to say that before journalists are arrested there should be due verification of all facts and circumstances.”

Sharma, in his letter to the Maharashtra Chief Minister, also expressed the extreme shock and anguish of the news industry over Kulkarni’s arrest. The letter mentioned, “The FIR is based upon some reports which purported to draw the connection between the gathering at Mumbai Bandra West station and a news story by him.”

Defending Kulkarni, Sharma in his letter stated, that he “is a person with impeccable record and known for his upright journalism and would always make himself available to the investigating agency/ies for any purpose and thus, there is no question of him fleeing from or evading the investigating agency/ies, which necessitated an arrest in the current pandemic situation exposing him to the risk of contracting the virus.”

Continuing further, he wrote, “NBA condemns the said unreasonable arrest. The arrest is a serious infringement on the right of freedom of speech and is a frontal assault on the freedom of press. The fundamental right of freedom of speech is sought to be gagged and any further custody and incarceration of him would be a serious infraction of the constitutional mandate and would also threaten his life.”

He pointed out that NBA has constituted an Adjudicatory Body, namely the “News Broadcasting Standards Authority” (NBSA), which is an independent body headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Arjan Sikri. Its task is to consider and adjudicate upon complaints about broadcasts. The Authority comprises of, apart from the Chairperson, who is a Retired Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India; four eminent persons and four eminent editors employed with the broadcasters. All cases are adjudicated in a fair and impartial manner and it is empowered to regulate its own procedure.

“The Authority is empowered to pass various orders and they can warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval against and/or impose a fine upon the broadcaster and/or recommend to the concerned authority for suspension / revocation of license of such broadcaster. It has the power to impose a fine to the tune of Rs 100,000, which can be recovered from the concerned Broadcaster...It would, therefore, be in the larger interest of press freedom that a journalist and reporter of the standing of Rahul Gurunath Kulkarni  is freed from all charges so that the sanctity of press freedom is restored. Any complaints with respect to the said or any content may kindly be made to the NBSA at the above stated address and we assure you that justice would be done and in case of any violation appropriate Orders would be passed in accordance with the NBSA regulations,” Sharma urged.


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