The Coimbatore Police on Thursday, April 23, arrested the founder of the online news portal Simplicity on charges of publishing news exposing government’s shortcomings in COVID-19 works, which has drawn huge flak from several quarters. The web portal also carried news on alleged corruption by some staff of the Public Distribution System (PDS) outlets. A complaint was filed by an official of Coimbatore Corporation claiming that the reports were false and aimed at creating rumor among the public on relief measures.
The Coimbatore Journalists’ Forum and Centre for Media Persons for Change (CMPC) have condemned the arrest of the founder of the portal. The media persons also held a silent protest in Coimbatore against the arrest.
The founder of the portal, Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, was booked under IPC 188, IPC 505(1)(B) and section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. He has been sent on 15 days judicial custody after being produced before the magistrate. Before he was arrested, a reporter and photographer of the portal were let free after more than 10 hours of interrogation.
The leader of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, M K Stalin, has demanded the state government to withdraw the case filed against the organisation. Actor Kamal Hassan, the founder leader of the Makkal Needhi Maiam also took to Twitter to condemn the state government’s action on the organisation and the staff, for bringing out the administrative failures in overcoming the pandemic.
Also read: COVID-19: More Health Workers Contract Infection in Tamil Nadu, Number of Tests Remains Low
Coimbatore MP, P R Natarajan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has applauded the work of the media persons during the pandemic and demanded the state government to withdraw the case and release the founder of the portal.
The CMPC in a statement condemned the police action on the media persons discharging their duties at the time of the pandemic. The organisation also condemned the attitude of the corporation officials and the Commissioner of Police towards the media fraternity.
Journalists from various organisations held a protest in Coimbatore condemning the arrest and detention of two other staff for several hours. The detained staff were kept in abeyance and were unreachable for the whole duration of the detention on Thursday.
“The news portal had pointed out the delay in providing food to the PG doctors and Compulsory Rotatory Residential Internship (CRRI) doctors. The portal had also pointed out the illegal practices in certain PDS shops based on complaints from the public. The action taken is against the freedom of the press,” the release said.
Media persons are performing their duties under high risk at this time of crisis with more than 30 people having reported positive over the last few days in Chennai. The government has announced that media persons should take tests in the hospitals to ensure their safety. Despite working under such highly risky conditions, the government has been on the fence regarding reports highlighting its shortcomings.
The incident reported began when two PG doctors tested positive for COVID-19 following which the mess for PG doctors and CRRI were closed. Around 500 doctors depend on this mess for at least one meal everyday. The PG doctors even complained of delay in supply of food and verbal abuse by the Assistant Resident Medical Officer (ARMO) for demanding quality food on time. Few doctors took to social media to expose the situation, following which the health secretary had to intervene to settle the issue.
The action against the media organisation on the complaint of the deputy commissioner of the corporation was also questioned by the CMPC. “The corporation administration instead of rectifying the faults pointed out, is resorting to police action. This has created doubts on the genuinity of the functioning of the corporation in ensuring the relief materials to the public,” the CMPC statement added.