The filing of an FIR under non-bailable provisions by the Tamil Nadu police against Tamil television news channel Puthiya Thalaimurai and its Coimbatore reporter is a blatant attack on the freedom of the media.
On 8 June, Puthiya Thalaimurai organised a debate in Coimbatore on whether the anti-Sterlite protests of Tuticorin had been politicized. This followed the tragedy of May 22, when following a 100-day dharna the police shot 13 protesters dead.
Film director Ameer, who was one of the panelists at the debate, challenged the term “anti-socials” used by the state government to describe a section of the protesters. He also went on to ask whether the protests by a pro-Hindu outfit in Coimbatore a few years ago could also be labelled “anti-social”. This led to a heated exchange between Ameer and Bharatiya Janata Party members present at the debate. The show was called off after around 20 minutes and Ameer later announced that he did not wish to hurt anybody’s sentiments.
Next day, on June 9, the owners of the venue where the debate was held, lodged a police complaint and the Tamil Nadu police responded by filing an FIR against Puthiya Thalaimurai, on the grounds that the discussion promoted enmity between two groups. The FIR cites the following sections:
1. Section 153 (A) of IPC: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
2. Section 505 of IPC: Statements conducing to public mischief.
3. Section 3 (1) of Tamil Nadu Public Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act: Punishment for committing mischief in respect of property shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years and with fine.
The television channel had apparently taken the requisite permission from the authorities. A posse of policemen were present on the occasion to provide security cover to the VIPs. The owners of the venue too were aware of the nature of the event— which was providing a platform for political and social leaders to voice their differing points of view on a contentious issue.
If a television news channel is targeted maliciously for holding a healthy debate, which is meant to foster freedom of expression and bring out different viewpoints, it is a matter of grave concern. The FIR is clearly aimed to act as a deterrent to free speech. This will have a chilling effect on the rest of the media in the state.
The Foundation for Media Professionals demands that the Tamil Nadu police and state government should immediately withdraw the FIR filed against the television channel and ensure that they instead do their Constitutional duty – which is to uphold the freedom of speech and expression.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, President
Sandhya Ravishankar, Tamil Nadu Convenor