The Press Council of India has censured ‘The Indian Express’ and a Marathi daily of the Express Group, ‘Lokstta’ for attributing a fake quote to Sri. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS). Articles containing the fake quote were authored by Sri. Karan Thapar in ‘The Indian Express’ and Sri. Girish Kuber in the ‘Loksatta’.
Last year, the RSS had organised a three-day conference named ‘Bhavishya ka Bharat’ in Delhi. The conference concluded with an interactive session where Sri. Mohan Bhagwat answered questions from various eminent personalities. The views expressed by Sri. Mohan Bhagwat were widely covered by the media. In this context, on 21st September, 2018, the Marathi daily ‘Loksatta’ published an editorial stating, “In 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on suspicion of consumption and storing beef. There is need to express reaction by the RSS chief. “The Vedas order the killing of the sinner who kills a cow”, this reaction was expressed by the RSS Chief after three days of this tragic incident.” Sri. Girish Kuber is the Editor of Loksatta.
On the same day, ‘The Indian Express’ published an article authored by Sri. Karan Thapar titled “Has the RSS ground shifted?”. Sri. Thapar wrote, “In fact, Bhagwat himself is not averse to making inflammatory statements. In 2015, when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on suspicion of consumption and storing beef, he’s reported to have said: “the Vedas order the killing of the sinner who kills a cow.”
The RSS ‘Sarsanghachalak’ Sri. Mohan Bhagwat had strongly condemned violence and mob lynching. The words attributed to Sri. Bhagwat were never expressed by him or by any other official of the RSS.
Sri. Akshay Phatak, a resident of Dombivali, Maharashtra filed a complaint to the Press Council under Section 14 of the Press Council Act, 1978 against ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Loksatta’. Subsequently Press Council issued Show Cause notices to the editors of both newspapers. The matter was heard finally on 29th March, 2019 by the Press Council. The respondent newspapers contended that they assumed that the attribution was correct and that it was a bona fide mistake. The Respondent newspapers also questioned the locus standi of complainant Sri.Akshay Phatak.
The Council held that the mistake was not bona fide. With respect to Sri. Karan Thapar, the Council accepted the report of the inquiry committee which opined, “had the mistake been bonafide and committed by a junior correspondent could have been accepted and the proceedings dropped. Here such a mistake has been committed by none other than a senior columnist having long experience. In the facts of the present case, the Inquiry Committee is of the opinion that the mistake is not bonafide. This was a verifiable fact and while attributing the statement of such a magnitude to the head of an organization, the columnist ought to have been more careful and taken due care. He has failed to do the same.”
With respect to locus standi of the complainant, the Council held that, “Even a reader has a right to approach the Council, if he finds some mistakes in the newspaper.”
The apologies published by both newspapers were rejected by the Press Counil, holding that “the corrigendum and the apology in the facts of the present case have been tendered only with a view to get out of net of law and do not deserve acceptance.”
The Press Council decided to censure ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Loksatta’ and directed that a copy of the order be forwarded to the DAVP, The Director of Public Relations, Government of Maharashtra and The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mumbai.