Reflection of larger threats to freedom of speech: Editors Guild

The Editors Guild of India has expressed deep concern over Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim being “dragged through a cumbersome criminal charge procedure” on a complaint over a social media post and said her case is a reflection of the larger threats to freedom of speech in the country.

In a statement, the guild said Mukhim’s case is an example of how multiple legal provisions can be used against free speech and therefore against free press.  

The statement comes days after Mukhim resigned as member of Editors Guild in protest against what she called, the organisation’s “complete silence” on the recent high court ruling which refused to quash an FIR against her and held her guilty of creating communal disharmony through her Facebook post in July.

In its statement on Sunday, the guild said it is deeply concerned to see Padma Shri awardee and Editor of Shillong Times, 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,” the guild said.

“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,” it said.

Media’s prime responsibility is to question the affairs of the government and report information, however harsh and disturbing it may be, the guild said.

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, it said.

The guild said it 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.