Journalists hit the streets in Kerala on Saturday protesting the alleged criminal trespass and intimidation by SFI activists at the Kochi office of the Asianet News channel over a news item on a minor drug abuse victim.
Police on Friday booked 30 “identifiable” SFI activists who had barged into the channel’s office around 8pm, protesting the broadcast of a “fake news” concerning an interview of the minor victim of drug abuse and related sexual violence.
The SFI activists carried their flags and chanted slogans against the alleged fake news. The activists also carried a banner declaring “This organisation is an insult to cultural Kerala”, before leaving the premises in a few minutes.
This comes just 10 days after the associate editor of the channel, Vinu V. John, was summoned for questioning over his statement during a panel discussion criticising the ruling Left Democratic Front over a two-day shutdown in March last year.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists and press clubs in all the districts held protest marches demanding stringent action against the SFI activists for barging into a media office and obstructing work.
The SFI action followed days of social media attack on Asianet News over a news item titled “Narcotics is a dirty business”, aired on November 10, 2022.
What triggered the fake news allegation was the account of a 14-year-old girl — whose face was hidden from the camera — who narrated how she was introduced to drugs by a classmate who also sexually abused her and 10 others.
The girl recounted how she met the male friend on Instagram when she was in Class VII, how he introduced her to drugs and how she became a carrier from Bangalore to Kerala when she was in the two subsequent years in school. She alleged that 10 more girls were trapped in the same network.
The immediate trigger for the SFI protest was chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s reply on Friday to CPM MLA P.V. Anvar’s question about the authenticity of the girl’s account. In his reply, the chief minister informed the Assembly that the police have launched an investigation based on complaints about the minor girl being used to create a false personal account.
Vijayan confirmed that the Kannur police had filed the chargesheet after finding that the girl was sexually abused by her classmate.
The Opposition slammed the CPM and the SFI for the attack on a media house. “They make speeches about media freedom standing on the rooftop and yet attack the media,” leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan of the Congress told reporters on Friday.
LDF convener and CPM leader E.P. Jayarajan said his party doesn’t accept such interferences with media freedom.