Sunday, Nov 09, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
A posse of police personnel outside the Tamil Nadu House in New Delhi on Saturday where a demonstration was staged by the activists of Indian Youth Congress protesting against the Tamil Nadu Assembly's action. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty
A statement issued by 11 journalist associations/unions at a meeting convened by the Press Club of India said the Tamil Nadu Assembly's action was a "gross abuse of legislative authority to intimidate legitimate criticism and to seek to undermine the freedom of speech and expression. The decision to convict individuals without even giving them the basic right to be heard and present their defence represents an unprecedented disdain for democratic practice".
The associations called on the State Assembly to immediately withdraw the "draconian convictions" handed down on Friday. They urged the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, to revoke the "trumped up" charges brought against the journalists.
A separate statement issued after a special meeting of the Press Council of India expressed "deep concern" over the sentences passed and observed that in matters such as these, "the authorities concerned are expected to show some restraint and be benevolent". The PCI appealed to the legislature and the Speaker to revoke the verdict and said The Hindu had "glorious traditions and has always respected the freedom, privileges and role of the legislatures".
The All-India Newspaper Employees Federation in a telegram to Ms. Jayalalithaa said it was "a crude and unconstitutional misadventure and an attempt to curb press freedom".
The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) president, Suresh Akhouri, said the legislature's "trigger-happy approach poses a grave threat to the future of democracy in the country" and said the IJU stood alongside the entire journalist community and all democratic forces in the country in fighting such repressive attacks on the freedom of the press.
The Indian Women Press Corps president, Arati Jerath, said the action defied the "spirit of democracy" and impinged on the freedom of the press. It was outraged by the scant disregard shown by Tamil Nadu police in attempting to arrest the Executive Editor, Malini Parthasarthy, late at night violating the order stipulating that no woman should be arrested without the presence of woman police officer and after sunset.
The Hindu was a well-established, respected and fearless voice of the fourth estate, the IWPC said and urged the Assembly to reconsider its "ill-advised decision" and uphold the commitment to honour democratic institutions.
The Editor of Panchjanya, Tarun Vijay, said that though "we may differ with the editorial policy or the ideological contour of any newspaper, that does not mean that this kind of action be taken against them. Ideological differences should not be used for this kind of persecution. We stand by the Editor-in-Chief, N. Ram, who I consider a man of great integrity. The Hindu is a newspaper which is an icon of Indian journalism and this kind of action is not warranted against it."
The Delhi Union of Journalist (DUJ) resolved to launch a sustained agitation to defend the freedom of the press and said it was time the nation debated the codification of the privileges enjoyed by the Members of the State Assemblies and Members of Parliament. In a statement signed by its president, S.K. Pande, and secretary-general, Javed Faridi, the DUJ said "the brute majority used by the AIADMK in the Assembly reveals a willingness to use institutions of democracy to subvert the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression."
The Association of Indian Magazines said the Assembly's action was a clear violation of freedom of speech and expression, the very lifeline of democracy. It was the right of any publication to comment on what happened in a legislature. And a Government using its majority could not do what it was otherwise prohibited to do by way of law or Government directive. The growing tendency of Governments to file cases against publications to settle scores or show their disagreement was not good for the development of a free and responsible press, it said.
The Association of Desk Journalists president, Sanjay Roy, said it was totally undemocratic and a blatant attack on the freedom of the press.
The Indian Federation of Working journalists called on the Assembly to annul its resolution in order to maintain democratic standards and avoid a confrontation between the Press and the legislature.
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