I think we could all agree that harassment of an individual such as stalking or physical abuse should be punished. The problem comes when laws designed to protect members of our societies are used to stifle free speech and media freedom.
A local government in Chennai, India, has taken the harassment idea to the extreme in a way that violates India’s free press and free speech provisions.
Local police entered the offices of the tabloid Dinamalar and arrested its editor B. Lenin. And to make matters worse, the local judge sentenced Lenin to 15 days in jail without a trial.
The police and court relied on Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Women Harassment [Prevention] Act to arrest and jail the editor.
The Editors’ Guild of India and other local journalists’ associations immediately condemned the arrest and sentencing of Lenin.
The reason for the arrest was because Dinamalar reported that a Tamil Film industry actress had been arrested on prostitution allegations and made a “confession” naming other actresses involved in the sex trade.
The local journalists’ associations said they did not approve of the salacious reports published in the paper but that “proper course of action would have been to file a civil defamation case.”
The International Press Institute weighed in as well:
“It is unacceptable for a journalist to be arrested and sentenced to any period of detention simply for reporting in a case like this,” said IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel-McKenzie. “If the person or persons involved have a complaint about the reporting, they should take it up at a civil, not criminal, legislative level, or with the appropriate press bodies.”
For smug Americans, think about all the calls for restrictions on free press and speech under so-called “harmful speech” rules on college campuses and in some cities.
Reporting that is false should be punished in civil courts by proving the falsity of the reports. And bad journalism should be punished by a failure of the news outlet to survive as people no longer turn to it for information. (Unfortunately, there are too many media outlets that play fast and loose with the facts but still have a strong following. Maybe one day all this will catch up on them.)