Defamation: Hypocrisy of Kejriwal and others

 

The Delhi government’s jihad against the media is acquiring monstrous proportions. Even by the standards of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s continuously shifting stands and preposterous mendacity, the bid to bully journalists stands out because of its sheer impudence.

According to an official circular, if any state government officer feels that anything published or broadcast damages his or the government’s reputation, he should file a complaint with the Principal Secretary (Home). “In such case, a reference letter will be sent to the Principal Secretary (Home) containing details of the defamatory imputation published, the mode of publication, factual inaccuracy, details of allegations made, and ground for believing that it will harm the reputation of the person against whom the imputation has been made,” a senior officer told www.firstpost.com. If the Principal Secretary (Home) and the Director (Prosecution) are satisfied about the grounds of defamation, prosecution would start.

The circular is obnoxious on many counts. First, it means that anything critical, and not just an allegation of corruption, about the government or its functionaries could be construed as defamatory. For criticism does hurt government reputation.

Second, it flies in the face of Kejriwal’s claims about transparency, openness, pro-people, etc. Why should a government, which claims to be honest, fear uncharitable remarks by the media?

Third, now Kejriwal’s government is uneasy with factual inaccuracies of news reports, whereas he built his entire career by hurling charges without evidence against everybody that he disliked, be it individuals or big corporations.

Fourth, why should the Kejriwal government bully journalists and others by flaunting and flexing the laws to check defamation? The laws are already in place; the Delhi government is not making new laws. So, why should state the obvious? The only plausible explanation is this: the state government is trying to intimidate the media—don’t displease us, or else…

And, finally, the circular is obnoxious because of the doublespeak and hypocrisy of Kejriwal. Here is a man who appeals in the Supreme Court to decriminalize defamation—and threatens others with criminal defamation. The Editors Guild of India, while denouncing the circular, correctly pointed out: “It is doubly ironic that Mr. Kejriwal who in the Supreme Court has challenged the constitutional validity of the criminal defamation provisions of the Indian Penal Code when used against him should direct his government to use the same provisions against the media.” Perhaps he is convinced that the people of Delhi are fools who can’t see such blatant double standards.

Kejriwal has given an opportunity to Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress leaders to appear as the champions of liberty and media. So, BJP spokesperson GVL Narsimha Rao said,“He talks about unfettered freedom of speech but he wants everybody else’s throat to be throttled. This is the height of hypocrisy.”

On the face of it, this appears to be the anguish of a party that champions the cause of liberty. But, unfortunately, the BJP’s stand also qualifies to be called as the height of hypocrisy, for it exhibited spectacular shamelessness in defending the draconian Section 66A in the Supreme Court a few months ago.

Ditto with the grand old party. Congress leader P.C. Chacko said, “When there is criticism of the government, when the wrongdoings of his [Kejriwal’s] government is (sic) exposed by the media, the Chief Minister is taking objection to that. This shows the anti-democratic attitude of the Chief Minister.”Such sanctimoniousness from the party which introduced 66A a few years ago, imposed the Emergency in 1975, and did everything to curtail the freedom of expression over the decades.

The misdemeanors and doublespeak of our leaders are once again creating the anti-politician atmosphere that prevailed three to four years ago, the time when Anna Hazare started his movement. Those who benefited from the vicissitudes that followed are now becoming the target of contempt and distrust.