Press Council Finds Vijay Karnataka Newspaper Guilty of Targeting Muslims in COVID-19 Coverage
Representational Image. (File Image)
On February 28, 2023, the Press Council of India (PCI) decided to 'censure' Vijay Karnataka Newspaper (belonging to Times Group) for their coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the paper published an editorial titled 'All those who died from Corona are from the same community - why do they still come together in the name of prayers?" on March 28, 2020. The complainant argued that this article violated the Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2019. He demanded an apology and a clarification from the newspaper that Muslims were not responsible for the spread of coronavirus.
The complainant is part of a Bengaluru-based collective called 'Campaign against Hate Speech'. Vijay Karnataka is a Kannada language newspaper circulated primarily in Karnataka state. It is owned by the Times Group.
Hate Speech Beda has previously filed complaints against Times Now, News18 Kannada, Suvarna News and Star of Mysore. In all four instances, they successfully argued their case and ensured action against the media houses. Vijay Karnataka failed to attend the summons of the Press Council of India (PCI) on two different occasions, following which the PCI issued a bailable warrant against the editor.
In their defence, the newspaper argued that they did not mention the name of any particular community and that the newspaper was merely attempting to bring awareness to the community.
A PCI inquiry committee rejected this argument and noted, "There is a reference to persons who visited Mecca and thereafter allegedly died of Corona. There is a reference to people offering namaz behind closed doors. It is stated that Hindus and Christians have respected the curfew, but members of the mentioned community have been offering namaz (sic) behind closed doors.
Reference to Mecca and namaz indicates that the author had Muslims in mind and he was targeting them."
The committee concludes, "Vijay Karnataka has tried to spread misinformation during the time of Pandemic and has targeted the Muslim community, and its conduct is violative of the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India."
On March 30, 2020, the Supreme Court directed the media not to publish unverified news capable of spreading panic. The following day, the PCI also issued guidelines to journalists regarding COVID-19 coverage.
The PCI Committee had earlier urged Vijay Karnataka to issue an apology in print. However, since the paper declined to do so, the committee urged the PCI to 'severely censure' the newspaper. The PCI accepted the committee's findings and recommendations and promptly censured Vijay Karnataka.
In a blog post, the 'Campaign against Hate Speech' describes their work as 'holding the media accountable'. It says, "Campaign Against Hate Speech was formed in February 2020 and has been tracking hateful media coverage, particularly targeted at minority communities. It has approached media regulatory bodies such as the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and PCI with complaints against media publications and channels for the latter's violation of media-related laws and guidelines."
Shilpa Prasad, a lawyer and a member of the 'Campaign against Hate Speech', says that the process of investigating complaints is prolonged.
Speaking to NewsClick over the phone, she says, "For newspapers, we file a complaint with PCI, and for other broadcasters, we approach the monitoring committees under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995. This act has provisions against content which spreads hatred between communities. However, the state-level monitoring committees only exist on paper and have not held a sitting to decide on our complaints. In the case of Times Now, Suvarna News and News18 Kannada, they (the news channels) had opted to join a self-regulatory body called the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA). This body got the (offending) news channels to broadcast apologies."
Campaign against Hate Speech had previously filed a complaint against News18 Kannada, Times Now, Suvarna News and Star of Mysore Newspaper in connection with their coverage and portrayal of Tablighi Jamaat.
The NBSA directed News18 Kannada to pay a fine of Rs 1,00,000 and issue an on-air apology. Suvarna News was also directed to pay a fine of Rs 50,000. Times Now was issued a censure from the NBSA "for telecasting… a programme on a sensitive issue which could create communal dissensions amongst communities."
On December 16, 2022, the PCI censured the Star of Mysore newspaper for its editorial on Muslims.
In a press release, the Campaign against Hate Speech notes, "In its irresponsible editorial published on April 6, 2020, the then editor-in-chief KB Ganapathy had written that the 'the nation is currently hosting an annoying 18% of its population self identifying as rotten apples' and 'the unedifying conduct of some sections in the population, marked by their faith and other features including their attire may bring to our mind the analogy of bad apples in the basket.' Advocating for eliminating a community, the editorial further stated, "An ideal solution to the problem created by bad apples is to get rid of them, as the former leader of Singapore did a few decades ago or as the leadership in Israel is currently doing'."
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