‘Deeply Concerned’: Editors Guild on Case Against Patricia Mukhim

The statement comes days after she quit the body accusing it of being exclusionary towards lesser-known journalists.

Published
India
4 min read
Journalist Patricia Mukhim.
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The Editors Guild of India on Sunday, 22 November, released a statement on journalist Patricia Mukhim, who is currently in the middle of a criminal case lodged against her for her Facebook post about continued attacks on non-tribals in the state.

The statement from the association comes days after Mukhim, a Padma Shri recipient, veteran journalist and editor of The Shillong Times, quit Editors Guild of India accusing the association of being exclusionary towards lesser-known journalists by standing up for only celebrity journalists, NDTV reported.

In the statement issued on Sunday, the Editors Guild wrote that it was “deeply concerned” to see Mukhim “being dragged through a cumbersome criminal charge procedure.”

Mukhim’s case is a reflection of the larger threats to freedom of speech in India, which operates under an unwieldy framework of laws that are often used indiscriminately by government and law enforcement agencies to muzzle dissent.
Statement by Editors Guild of India

“Mukhim’s case is an example of how multiple legal provisions can be used against free speech and therefore against free press,” the statement further read.

WHAT HAD HAPPENED?

Mukhim, in her post on Facebook, had written about a skirmish between tribal and non-tribal youths at Lawsohtun. She has stated that this continued attack on non-tribals in Meghalaya, whose perpetrators have never been arrested since 1979, has resulted in Meghalaya being a failed state.

Following a complaint, police registered a case against Mukhim. Police also issued a notice under Section 41 A Cr.P.C requiring her to appear before the Investigating Officer.

Mukhim approached the High Court where “it was contended that she had only expressed concern on the handling of the case in question by the police and the Dorbar Shnong and has only expressed the hope that this will not be another case lost in the police files but must be dealt with as per the law of the land,” according to a LiveLaw report.

Taking note of the Facebook Post, Justice W. Diengdoh observed that the post sought to create a divide to the ‘cordial relationship’ between the tribals and non-tribals living in Meghalaya.

WHY DID MUKHIM QUIT EDITOR’S GUILD?

In her resignation letter from the Editors Guild, Mukhim reportedly wrote:

“I now wish to resign from its membership. There are several reasons for doing so. First, as a journalist, I don’t belong to that august league of celebrity editors whose newspapers are widely read and web-based news portals are hugely popular... I come from the fringes both geographically and in terms of my own status in an association I consider hierarchical by its very composition.”

She added that while the journalists’ body responded with ‘alacrity’ upon the arrest of TV anchor Arnab Goswami, it had disregarded Mukhim’s plea to speak up for her when the Meghalaya HC failed to reject a police complaint that was lodged against her over a Facebook post.

Mukhim further said that she perceives this difference in treatment as “the Guild playing to the gallery to defend celebrity editors/anchors whose voices matter while choosing to deliberately ignore a plea (unstated) from one of its members.”

FULL STATEMENT FROM EDITOR’S GUILD

Below is the full statement issued by the association on Sunday in connection to Mukhim.

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned to see Padma Shri awardee and Editor of Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim, being dragged through a cumbersome criminal charge procedure that is borne out of a complaint on one of her social media posts. The criminal complaint was filed in response to her Facebook post in July 2020 over a skirmish between tribal and non-tribal youth in Lawsohtun at a basketball court. Mukhim’s case is a reflection of the larger threats to freedom of speech in India, which operates under an unwieldy framework of laws that are often used indiscriminately by government and law enforcement agencies to muzzle dissent.

In her post, Mukhim claimed that the continued attacks on non-tribals had gone unpunished, which had turned Meghalaya into a failed state. The Dorbar Shnong (a Khasi tribal institution) perceived it as a divisive comment and filed a complaint with the police, which registered a criminal case under sections 153A/500/505C IPC (offences promoting disharmony and enmity between different groups as well as criminal defamation) and asked her to present herself before the investigating officer. In her endeavor to seek legal remedy against the FIR, Mukhim went to the Meghalaya High Court, but the court, on November 10, refused to quash the criminal proceedings.

Mukhim’s case is an example of how multiple legal provisions can be used against free speech and therefore against free press. Several provisions across multiple laws give a handle to government agencies and law enforcement authorities to lodge criminal cases against journalists wherein the criminal complaint procedure itself becomes an exacting punishment, and acts as deterrent against exercise of free speech. Media's prime responsibility is to question the affairs of the government and report information, however harsh and disturbing it may be. They cannot be held liable for relaying information that may bring to fore details on fault lines within the society, or for that matter, mismanagement and corruption in government affairs.

Editors Guild of India underlines the need for higher judiciary to take cognizance of these crucial issues that impede freedom of speech and issue guidelines to ensure that wanton use of laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press.

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