On January 19, a court in Gujarat issued an arrest warrant against eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in a defamation suit filed by the Adani Group. Since then several leading media organizations and commentators have voiced strong opposition of this action against a senior journalist with many-sided achievements in print journalism, TV and documentary films.
Thakurta has also been working as guest faculty member at IIM Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Shillong, Delhi University, JNU and other institutions. He was also editor of EPW for some time, apart from being associated with widely admired programs of Lok Sabha TV, NDTV and other TV channels. He was member of a Press Council Committee . His investigative stories and his books like Gas Wars and Sue the Messenger have been widely discussed. His leading documentary films include Hot as Hell—Why Jharia is Burning , Coal Curse and A Thin Dividing Line.
In a statement the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has voiced strong criticism of “ the new arrest warrant, issued despite the prior rejection of the defamation suit” by a court. The IFJ has stated that the targeting of Paranjoy Thakurta is a despicable use of power and influence by a powerful corporate group.
Sabina Inderjit , Secretary General of Indian Journalists Union (IJU) , has said, “ We condemn the arrest warrant against a renowned journalist. IJU has earlier demanded decriminalization of defamation law which is a serious threat to the freedom of press and media rights.”
The Editors’ Guild of India has strongly condemned this move of arrest warrant against a leading journalist and the intolerance of big corporate houses to criticism. It has criticized this action against the senior journalist as an “attempt to use intimidatory tactics by powerful corporate houses against journalists to suppress media scrutiny.” The Guild has also urged the Adani Group to withdraw the criminal case against Thakurta.
The Guild has expressed anguish at ploys used by business to silence voices in media. The Guild refers to this case as a prime example of laws such as defamation can be misused.
The Delhi Union of journalists (DUJ) has strongly condemned the move to arrest a senior journalist. The DUJ has added, “ We have long demanded decriminalization of the defamation law that is a serious threat to press freedom.”
The DIGJPUB News India foundation ( DNIF) has criticized the relentless pursuit of Thakurta and asked big business houses to desist from such intimidation and attempts to suppress or punish critical journalism which are detrimental to freedom of press and ultimately to democratic accountability. The statement has said that we condemn such hounding of journalists.
In addition there have been several other adverse comments by well-regarded commentators who have also pointed out that Thakurta has faced relentless action for articles which essentially follow sound journalism principles and are examples of critical rather than defamatory journalism. Attention has also been drawn to the fact that Thakurta is after all a teacher of journalism in many prestigious universities and institutions and has assisted the Press Council of India in media ethics work, and such a senior and experienced can hardly be accused of loose defamatory writing. Hence what appears most likely is that he has been hounded and relentlessly pursued, to use the words of journalist organizations, for critical writing and not for defamatory writing.
In the interests of press freedom , freedom of expression and protecting the much-needed space for critical views and reports regarding the most powerful and intimidating forces, it is important that the voice of various journalists’ organizations for justice and protection for eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta should be heard and heeded.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril.