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Madras HC Takes Suo Moto Notice Of Issue Of 'Fake Journalists'; Seeks Responses From Govt, Press Bodies [Read Order]

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
22 Jan 2020 2:00 AM GMT
Madras HC Takes Suo Moto Notice Of Issue Of
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The Madras High Court has taken suo moto notice of the issue of 'fake journalists' and has sought responses from the Tamil Nadu Government, Press Council of India and various journalists' bodies on means to tackle the problem.

A division bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and P Velmurugan took notice of the issue on January 10, while hearing a writ petition filed by one S Sekaran seeking proper investigation in the idol theft case.

The petitioner claimed that he was running a fortnightly magazine named "Maneeda Manam". The Government Pleader took an objection that the petitioner was not a genuine media person and that his magazine was not known to anybody.

To verify, the bench directed him to file an affidavit clarifying his credentials. The petitioner then produced six identity cards which were stated to have been issued by the Information and Public Relationship Department. Along with them, there happened to be the original identity card of a police officer, who was involved in the probe of idol theft case.

This aroused suspicion in the minds of the judges as to whether the petitioner was a fake press persons, who was litigating to scuttle the investigation in the case to protect third party interests.

Incidentally, the Court chose to examine the issue of fake journalists as well.

"It is evident from the media reports that many people are claiming themselves as press reporters and said to have been committing crimes and blackmailing business people and Government officials", the bench observed.

The Court cited the incident of a person extorting money from a school management after claiming to be the reporter of "Daily Thanthi".

"This is only a tip of an iceberg and many fake press people are claiming themselves to be reporters of popular and established newspapers and collecting money from organizers of meetings/seminars bringing disrepute to those popular newspapers/magazines. It is also stated that the genuine press reporters are sidelined and these fake press people / press reporters have taken over all the press associations and they are said to be dominating the associations.

They are allegedly reporting news on payment. There should be a parameter such as minimum circulation for magazines or newspapers to claim themselves as press people. The credentials of the parties have to be verified in detail before issuing the identity cards, since many people having criminal background also claim to be press people and indulging in criminal activities using this as a shield like that of the many criminals who purchase law degrees and use it as a shield for their criminal activities.

Since the image of the press off late is damaged because of the activities of the people who are claiming to be press reporters, the system has to be cleaned so that the interest of genuine journalists/press people will be protected", the bench observed.

The Court then proceeded to suo moto implead the Secretary, Information and Public Relations Department, TN Govt, Press Council of India, Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club.

The bench sought answers from the Government for the following queries :

  1. How many newspapers or magazines including weekly as well as fortnightly are registered with the Government of Tamil Nadu for the past 10 years? [year wise details in each category such as magazine or newspaper have to be given].
  2. How many persons are issued with press identity cards totally by the Government?
  3. Are cases registered against people who are claiming to be press reporters for indulging in criminal activities? If it is so, how many cases have been filed and the present stage of those cases?
  4. Whether people claiming as Press reporters are indulging in blackmailing and conducting Katta Panchayat?
  5. Is there any Government scheme for the benefit of press people in case of any accidents or untimely death?
  6. Who are all the members of the Accreditation committee and the media organisation they belong to and the circulation or viewership of the said media organisations?
  7. On what basis the members of the Accreditation committee are selected?
  8. Why not the State Government consider establishing a statutory body like Press Council of India to take action against the errant members?
  9.  What are all the list of journalist associations registered in Tamil Nadu?

From the press bodies, the Court sought answers for the following queries :

  1. How many reporters from the newspapers/magazines registered with the Registrar of the Newspapers for India and Audit Bureau of Circulation are enrolled as members of each Association viz., Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club.
  2. Who are all the office bearers of these associations viz., Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club and the newspapers/magazines they belong to?
  3. Who are all the members of all the three associations viz., Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club?
  4. When was the last membership enrolment conducted for all the three associations viz., Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club?
  5. When was the last election conducted to all the three associations viz., Madras Union of Journalists, The Madras Reporters Guild and Chennai Press Club?
  6. Whether fake press people and people not connected with the professions have entered into the associations and dominating the genuine press people and what are all the acts done by those fake press people?

On 21 January 2020, five working journalists filed a petition to implead themselves to assist the court.

The bench allowed the imleadment of these journalists - Sandhya Ravishankar (founder-editor of 'The Lede'), J Jayabathuri(Sub Editor, Sun News), D Prakash (Chief Principal Correspondent, Nakkeeran), Prathibha Parameswaran (Features Editor, Times of India) and Sanjay Rao (Principal Correspondent, Sakshi TV).

The matter will be next considered on February 5.

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