The ruling Left front in Kerala and the Congress-led UDF Opposition had a face-off in the state assembly on Monday, as they accused each other of being against press freedom in the wake of certain developments related to a prominent Malayalam news channel.
The accusations flew thick and fast between both sides after the UDF Opposition moved an adjournment motion to discuss the issue of the SFI trespassing into Malayalam news channel Asianet’s Kochi office recently and subsequent police search at its office in Kozhikode on Sunday.
The SFI activists barged into the office and displayed a banner reading, “Asianet News spreads fake news and is a shame for Kerala’s cultural space”.
‘LDF govt for press freedom’
As Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan contended there was no need for adjourning the House to discuss the issue because no freedom of the press was infringed, Speaker AN Shamseer denied permission to the motion and the Opposition staged a walkout in protest. In his speech opposing the adjournment motion, the Kerala CM contended that the LDF has always fought for press freedom and would continue to do so in the future, but it was the BJP and the Congress which were against the media’s independence.
Also read: Journalist bodies condemn SFI ‘attack’ on Asianet office in Kochi
During the emergency, the Congress had allegedly stopped the media from reporting the truth and the BJP, presently, takes action against any channel or newspaper which does criticise it, Vijayan alleged. He also alleged that the news channel, which was subject matter of the debate, broadcasted misleading reports that schools in the state were in the grip of drugs and “misused” a minor girl without her knowledge to make a “fake video interview” regarding the same.
Following a complaint in this connection from an LDF MLA, PV Anvar, a case was lodged and an investigation initiated pursuant to which police searched the Kozhikode office of the channel. On the alleged attack by SFI activists at the Kochi office of the channel, the CM said that according to the students group, it was a peaceful protest, but on a complaint being made by Asianet, a case was registered and eight people arrested. “Investigation is underway in that case.”
The CM said that the channels alleged conduct of disseminating a fake video by misusing a minor girl cannot be seen as journalism and therefore, will not entitle it to the protection under the law given to the press.
Govt intolerant to criticism: LOP
Disputing the contentions of the CM, Leader of Opposition (LOP) in the state assembly VD Satheesan and Congress MLA PC Vishnunadh, who moved the adjournment motion, contended that the government action against the channel indicated the LDF “intolerance” towards criticism aimed at it. Both Satheesan and former LoP Ramesh Chennithala said the video in question did not show the girl’s face and was probably an illustrated visual. They said that had the channel mentioned it was an illustrative video while airing it, these problems would not have arisen.
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Nevertheless, the steps taken by the state government were “vindictive and targeted” against the channel for running news about certain issues within the CPI (M) in Kannur, the bastion of the Left front, Satheesan said.
“These are intimidating tactics,” he added. He also quoted a well-known senior journalist and media professional and conveyed a message to the media in Kerala that – “if you crawl, this government will come for you. So you should stand up”.
Before staging the walkout, Satheesan also referred to various alleged misleading news reports of a CPI (M) mouthpiece and accused the Left government and the CM of being intolerant and afraid of protests and criticisms. The Opposition also termed the state government action against the news channel as “revenge politics” of the Left front.
(With Agency inputs)