Twitter Account Not Deleted, Not Tampering With Evidence: Ramani
The cross-examination of senior journalist Priya Ramani in the MJ Akbar criminal defamation case continued on 24 October, in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal.
Former BJP minister MJ Akbar had filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani over a tweet and article that essentially accused him of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement last year. Her cross-examination, which began on 9 September, is likely to end on Friday, 25 October.
Destruction of Evidence?
Senior advocate Geeta Luthra began cross-examining Ramani by asking her if she knew the journalism code of ethics laid down by the Press Council of India. Luthra argued that Priya Ramani’s article in Vogue about sexual predators at the workplace was ‘plagiarised’ as it was not duly attributed.
Geeta Luthra: Did you feel the need to verify Firstpost article and tweet before publishing your tweet?
Priya Ramani: That news item was picked up by many other mainstream publications and I took it to be the truth.
Geeta Luthra: Would it be correct that every journalist has to abide by the ‘journalistic conduct’ issued by the press council of India ?
Priya Ramani: There is no legal requirement, but yes, that’s the ethic of journalism.
Geeta Luthra: Are you aware of the 2010 Edition of PCI that sets down norms of journalistic conduct that mandates pre-publication verification and caution against defamatory writing?
Priya Ramani: I have not read this updated document before but I am aware of the general ethics.
Geeta Luthra: Can you show this court, where in this article (vogue) you have stated that you have sourced information from other articles?
Priya Ramani: I did not say that specifically.
After this, she sought to show that Ramani was on good terms with Akbar before he joined the BJP – Akbar’s argument through his statement and the cross-examination has been that this political affiliation is why Ramani decided to make the accusation against him.
Luthra asked if Ramani remembered retweeting a tweet by Akbar in 2010, or tweeting about an article he wrote in 2014. Ramani said she couldn’t remember, and it was at this point that Akbar’s lawyer put forward the suggestion that Ramani had ‘deleted’ her Twitter account so that it would no longer be possible to see how she had made many positive comments about Akbar on the social media platform.
Luthra questioned Ramani’s decision to deactivate her Twitter account, arguing that her decision to delete her Twitter account was an attempt to 'interfere with evidence’. She also said it was no longer possible to see the number of retweets that Ramani’s tweet from October 2018 (revealing the beginning of her 2017 Vogue article was about MJ Akbar) had got.
After much commotion and at the judge’s insistence, Ramani clarified that she had not deleted the account, but deactivated it – and that it could be reactivated. After objecting, Luthra let Ramani tell the court the reason why she ‘deactivated’ her Twitter account.
The cross-examination will continue on Friday, 25 October, as well.
Cross-Examination in The Previous Hearing
On 9 September, senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing MJ Akbar, began her cross-examination by asking Ramani several personal questions about her ambitions of becoming a journalist, and her tenures at various media organisations.
First, she asked her which journalists she had looked up to when growing up and as a student. Ramani answered by naming a few journalists including Harinder Baweja – who was present in court to support her – but Luthra insisted on her naming others as well. After that, Luthra asked her which newspapers she’d read while growing up, and again pressed her after she’d named a few.
The next line of questioning by Luthra focused on Ramani’s tenure at various media organisations. She began by asking Ramani about her time at the Asian Age – it was during her interview for this newspaper at the end of 1993 that Ramani alleges MJ Akbar behaved inappropriately with her.
This line of questioning seemed designed to make her recall exact dates and numbers of articles published up to 25 years ago in an attempt to paint her as an unreliable witness.
What’s Happened So Far
Akbar filed a criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after she accused him of sexual harassment as the #MeToo campaign raged in India last year.
Ramani has already testified as the first defence witness in the case wherein she recalled the entire timeline of events since 1993 — right from her "uncomfortable" interview with Akbar to leaving his office and never working with him again.
She added, “I never met Mr Akbar alone in the Delhi office or the Bombay office alone. We always interacted in the edit meetings or with the whole office.”
She talked about writing an article in Vogue magazine on male bosses in the backdrop of #MeToo movement.
On 23 August, she had begun her statement under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the court and said, “I defend the truth spoken in public interest and for the public good. It is only now that sexual harassment at workplace is regarded as a serious offence.”
Akbar resigned as minister on 17 October 2018.
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