The Editor’s Guild of India condemned on Monday the registration of an FIR against Mathrubhumi TV news anchor Venu Balakrishnan by the Kerala police on charges of promoting communal enmity.
In a statement issued on 9 July, the Guild said, “Editors Guild considers the contemplated Police action against Mr. Venu Balakrishnan, Deputy Editor and Anchor of Mathrubhumi News television channel, based on the FIR filed by Kollam police, to be reprehensible and an attack on the freedom of the press.”
“The Guild understands that what Mr Balakrishnan said as an anchor of the show has been taken out of context and made the basis for lodging the FIR,” read the statement.
The Guild demanded that the Left Front government in Kerala led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should intervene in this matter since the accusation against Balakrishnan came from a group affiliate to the ruling party.
“The Left-ruled state of Kerala must take note of this unfortunate incident, engineered as it is by a group affiliated to the ruling party, and ensure that the Police is restrained from taking any action that undermines the freedom of the press and the justice delivery system,” read the statement.
A local leader of DYFI, the youth wing of CPI (M), accused Balakrishnan of instigating communal tenbsion during a prime-time news debate.
According to the police, Balakrishnan made a reference to the alleged torture of Edadathal Usman, a Muslim youth from Aluva in Ernakulam, who, according to Vijayan, assaulted a policeman and set on fire a bus in 2005 during a protest.
The protest was against the arrest of People’s Democratic Party chairman Abdul Nazir Madhani, who was then an accused in the Coimbatore blast case.
The Indian Express reports that during the show aired on 7 June, Balakrishnan said, “Muslim brethren, you are observing the Ramzan fast even without swallowing saliva. The chief minister has disgraced you with such a stain. It is a state where a person, who has gone to break fast, was served with jail.”
Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of the Opposition belonging to the Congress party, accused the CM of following in the footsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by attempting to gag the media.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, too, demanded the withdrawal of police case against Balakrishnan calling it autocratic steps to curb freedom of press and freedom of expression.
But Kollam city police commissioner Arul B Krishna said that the police consulted Director-General of Prosecutions before registering the case owing to its sensitivity and apparent chances that it could be to construed as an attack on the freedom of press.
The case against Balakrishnan has been registered under Section 153A of the IPC which lays down a punishment of three to five years in prison.