Editors’ Guild flays jail term for journos: “Gross misuse of powers, privileges of Legislature”

The Editors’ Guild of India has joined Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists in condemning the jail sentence awarded to two tabloid editors in Bangalore by the Privileges Committee of the Karnataka Assembly.

Below is the full text of the Guild statement:

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“The Editors Guild of India expresses its strong disapproval of the decision of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to sentence two journalists to prison and pay a fine for publishing allegedly defamatory articles against a few of its members. 

“The Guild opines that the decision violates the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and the Freedom of the Press.

“It is also a gross misuse of the powers and privileges of a state legislature. The Guild urges the Karnataka Assembly to withdraw its resolution without delay.

“The Guild has taken note of reports that on 22 June, the Speaker of the Assembly declared that the two journalists – Ravi Belagere and Anil Raju – were being sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of Rs 10,000 each. 

“The journalists have been accused of writing allegedly defamatory articles about the Speaker and a few Members of Legislature, including a member of the House Privileges Committee that had recommended the punishment.

“The Editors Guild of India is of the firm view that journalists must have the freedom to write critical articles against all such elected representatives of the country and hold them accountable to their actions without fear or favour.

“The Guild points out that the right to try and sentence journalists for defamation vest’s with the courts of law and the Karnataka Legislative Assembly cannot and should not misuse its powers and privileges to conduct a trial and sentence any member of the press for libel.

“The privileges of the Assembly, under which this action is taken, is not even codified.

“If individuals of the legislature feel that their reputations have been affected, they are free to take the matter to court against the journalists or publication and not act as complainant, prosecution and judge as they did in this case.

“The Guild hopes that wisdom will prevail and the Karnataka Legislative Assembly will immediately take corrective measures and withdraw its pernicious resolution against the two journalists.”