A report tabled in Uttar Pradesh assembly on Tuesday indicted nine former and current TV journalists from the India Today group in connection with an undercover report broadcast on Muzaffarnagar riots in September 2013.
The nine journalists against whom the action has been recommended under several sections of the IPC include Supriya Prasad (Managing Editor-Aaj Tak), Rahul Kanwal (Managing Editor-Headlines Today), Deepak Sharma, Arun Singh, Harish Sharma (all members of the then Special Investigations Team) Manish Kumar (Output Head, Aaj Tak), journalists/anchors Punya Prasoon Bajpayee, Gaurav Sawant and Padmaja Joshi.
The six-member committee recommended the assembly to consider charging them under various sections including 153 (A), 295 (A), 200, 463, 464 & 465, 469 , 471 of IPC.
Sharma and Joshi have since then left India Today group, while the Headlines Today has now been renamed India Today TV.
The UP assembly had constituted a committee in the aftermath of India Today group’s sting operation called Operation Danga, which allegedly blamed the senior minister in UP government, Azam Khan, for fuelling the communal tension during the riots.
The communal riots in Muzaffarnagar had killed more than 50 people while leaving many injured.
The committee has also recommended actions under IT Act (2000) and Cable TV Networks (regulation) Act- 1995 Sec-5 & Section 20.
The committee had taken the testimony of all the accused and the India Today Group CEO, Ashish Bagga before compiling the final report.
Khan had denied the allegations as broadcast in the sting operation.
Among other things, the report also questions the lack of editorial ethics followed in the period leading up to the broadcast of the sting operation.
It is critical of the way the ITG channels went ahead with Khan’s name on air without giving him the right to respond to allegations.
Khan in the past had alleged that that the entire sting operation was based on what the SHO of one police station in Muzaffarnagar had told the ITG journalists.
According to reports, the SHO in question had answered in affirmative when asked if someone from the top had called him to release few accused arrested on charges of rioting.
However, when the reporters asked if the person from the top was Azam Khan, the police officer had reportedly said yes.
The members of the SIT have been found guilty because they carried out the sting operation, while the probe committee held two managing editors guilty because of their roles as the editorial heads of those two channels when the sting was broadcast.
The report has also included anchors who presented the slots where either the whole or part of the sting operation was broadcast.
The assembly is likely to debate the report and its recommendations on 23 February before conclusively deciding on the punishment.
When contacted, a senior executive in India Today Group said that it wouldn’t comment on the assembly proceedings yet and will wait for the final decision.