In a major development, the Mumbai Police on Friday registered an FIR against four senior journalists and several other staffers of the news channel Republic TV on charges of defamanation and inciting "disaffection" among members of the police force.
Republic TV termed it as an "assault on media rights" and said it will fight every "strongarm tactic". The network has been trending the #RepublicWitchhunt hashtag on social media to protest against the alleged 'witchhunt' by the Mumbai Police.
What are the charges?
The FIR has been registered at N M Joshi Marg Police Station in the city, based on a complaint by Police Sub-Inspector Shashikant Pawar of Special Branch-1. It pertained to a report run by the channel about a 'revolt' against the city police commissioner by senior officers, an official said.
The First Information Report was filed under section 3(1) of the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, along with IPC section 500 (defamation).
Who were named in the FIR?
The accused Republic TV channel staffers named in the FIR are Executive Editor Niranjan Narayanswamy, Deputy News Editors Sagarika Mitra and Shawan Sen, Anchor/Senior Associate Editor Shivani Gupta, Deputy Editor Shawan Sen, other editorial staff and the newsroom in-charge.
What led to the 'defamation' and 'inciting disaffection' allegations?
The accused aired a report on Thursday between 7.00 PM to 7.10 PM about a 'revolt' against Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh by senior police officers, the FIR said, claiming that this amounted to incitement to disaffection among members of the police force and defamation of the force.
The report in question pertains to one headlined "Revolt Against Param Bir? Senior Officers Part of Probe Give Details" which was monitored by the complainant Pawar on Thursday evening.
The Republic TV report claimed that officers of Mumbai Police were on the verge of rebelling against the Commissioner of Police, citing sources contending that officers were disregarding his orders, which ostensibly spoiled the image of the city police force, it said.
Some of the statements aired by the channel in its report, which are cited in the FIR include: "Republic has exclusive information that there is rebellion against the top cop within the Mumbai police, now growing", "There is now a rebellion of swords brewing from his subordinates", "Param Bir Singh is hell-bent on single-handedly tarnishing the image of Mumbai Police".
Republic's reaction to the FIR
In its reaction, the news channel said the FIR was a "shocking assault on media rights". Republic TV termed it as "shocking", "witch-hunt" and "a shocking assault on media rights" by the Mumbai Police.
"This is happening for the first time in the world, the Mumbai Police Commissioner is not above the Constitution and the law," it tweeted.
"In a brazen, blatant and shocking attack on press freedom by Mumbai Police, Republic Media Network has been issued notice to submit details of every transaction since inception and list every single journalist and employee. We will fight each and every strongarm tactic," the channel said.
(With inputs from agencies)