Police officials with batons approach youths who shared a ride during the COVID-19 lockdown at the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, on May 6, 2020. Mumbai police have opened criminal investigations into Republic TV journalists for a story on the police chief. (AP/Rajanish Kakade)

Mumbai police open investigation into Republic TV journalists

New Delhi, October 27, 2020 — The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Mumbai police to stop trying to intimidate journalists at Republic TV and drop all criminal investigations into the news channel. On October 23, Mumbai police opened an investigation into five members of the privately-held news channel’s editorial team in relation to a critical report on Police Chief Param Bir Singh, according to various news reports.

According to the daily Mint business newspaper, the police are investigating news anchor Shivani Gupta, reporters Sagrika Mitra and Shawan Sen, executive editor Niranjan Narayan and another unnamed editorial staffer on accusations of defamation and trying to cause “disaffection” among police personnel.

According to a copy of the police complaint, accessed by Hindustan Times, the police investigation is in relation to a news item aired by Republic TV on October 22 captioned “Revolt against Param Bir Singh? Senior officer part of the probe gives details.” The complaint was registered by Shashikant Pawar, a sub-inspector at Mumbai Police’s Social Media Lab which monitors content on social media platforms and television channels, according to The Hindu.

“The growing number of legal investigations into journalists at Republic TV is concerning,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s Senior Asia Researcher. “Police should drop these charges; they should do their job, and let the journalists do theirs.”

According to Hindustan Times, Pawar in his complaint claimed: “By broadcasting such content, the channel and its journalists intentionally tried to incite disaffection among the police personnel against the police commissioner and the act also maligns Mumbai Police’s image.”

If found guilty of causing “disaffection” among the police personnel, Gupta, Mitra, Sen and Narayan and the unnamed staff member could face up to six months imprisonment and fines, according to the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act. The punishment for defamation is two years imprisonment or a fine or both, according to the Indian penal code.

On its website, Republic TV called the police investigation a “grave attack on the freedom of press” and a “vendetta campaign” against the news channel. 

Mumbai Police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.

Earlier this month, an investigation was opened in Mumbai into another Republic TV journalist, Pradip Bhandari, for disobeying police by gathering a crowd, according to Indian Express. In September, two Republic TV journalists were detained for nearly six days in the Raigar district of Maharashtra while reporting around the chief minister’s farm house, according to news website Newslaundry. The police claimed they were trespassing and are currently investigation; the news channel denied the accusation.

In an unrelated case, the news channel’s editor, Arnab Goswami, has been accused of targeting the Muslim community and for making “inflammatory statements” during a television debate, according to The Hindu. Mumbai Police are investigating the charges. In a statement on October 26, the Editors Guild of India asked Mumbai police to respect the rights of Republic TV, while asking the outlet to behave responsibly with its news coverage.

Editor’s note: The final paragraph has been updated to clarify that the case is unrelated to the new accusations the outlet is facing.