Rahul Kulkarni, a journalist with Marathi news channel ABP Majha was arrested by the Mumbai Police along with 10 others on 15th April for misleading people with fake news that led to migrant workers gathering in Bandra on 14 April and demanding to be sent back to their home towns. The misleading report by Kulkarni had played a part in the rumour mongering’ that led to nearly 2,000 alleged migrant workers assembling in Bandra on April 14th despite a nationwide lockdown in the country.
Though Rahul Kulkarni, the ABP Manjha reporter who was arrested for speeding fake news has got bail, the Bandra Court made scathing comments not only against Kulkarni and his reportage that led to the migrant crisis in Bandra, but also statements that held up a mirror to the media fraternity on the whole. It is pertinent to note that the Bandra Court held that Rahul Kulkarni’s arrest by the police was completely justified and that his fake news reportage, indeed, caused a law and order problem in Bandra.
The Court first cautions and observes that the Country is dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and to arrest the spread, the government has announced a lockdown, it is in this background that an offence was registered against the accused journalist of ABP, Rahul Kulkarni, for spreading fake news. The court also reveals that according to the investigating agencies, it is this fake news run by ABP and its journalist Rahul Kulkarni, that thousands gathered at Bandra to go back to their home towns, giving rise to a crisis amidst Coronavirus lockdown.
Whether the news report was fake news and it led to the congregation at Bandra
In this regard, the Bandra court was rather categorical in stating that the ABP news report by Rahul Kulkarni was indeed fake news and an example of irresponsible reporting. It also observed that it was sufficient to mislead innocent commoners into congregating at Bandra station.
The Bandra Court observed that the ABP news run by Rahul Kulkarni clearly said that Jan Sadharan Trains will be operated by the government to rescue stranded persons and that the report clearly showed that the government and the railway administration has come to a “definitive conclusion” that these trains will be operated. This news then became viral and “led to a huge gathering at Bandra station”.
The Court also observed that some “anti-social elements took opportunity and benefit of the news item to inside and father people at Bandra station”.
The Court also observed that it does not matter whether the news was published before or after the address of the Prime Minister to the nation that announced the extension of the lockdown. If the broadcast was prior to the address to the nation, even then it was equally irresponsible since the channel should have waited for the PM’s statement before rushing to broadcast the news.
The court observed. “His behaviour has actually led to the present situation”. The Court also observed that “the accused seems to have ignored his responsibility”.
Scathing comments on the responsibility of the media
The Bandra Court also made some scathing comments on the role and responsibilities of the media. It observed that the media certainly enjoys the freedom of the press and expression, however, the freedom too comes with reasonable restrictions.
The Court observed that the accused (ABP journalist Rahul Kulkarni arrested for spreading fake news) should have kept these reasonable restrictions in mind while reporting the news item. The media has a tremendous influence on the general public and thus, it is necessary that the news report should be published sensibly and in a more responsible manner with anticipation of the consequences, it could have.
‘Arrest was necessary to prevent him from indulging in similar activity’ – Bandra court on arrest of ABP journalist Rahul Kulkarni for spreading fake news
The Bandra Court held that the police action arresting Rahul Kulkarni, ABP journalist, was completely justified after he spread fake news that led to the law and order situation in Bandra.
One the most interesting revelations made by the Bandra Court observations is that the case diary of the police showed that the “accused was not in a position to cooperate and his arrest was necessary to prevent him from indulging in similar activities”.
ABP Manjha news has yet not clarified why its reporter was not cooperating with the police, making his arrest necessary to stop him from spreading fake news.
The court then denied Police Custody saying that all the information is in the public domain and that mobile phones, documents etc have already been taken custody of.
However, even while granting bail, the observations of the Bandra Court appears as though it has Prima Facie held that ABP journalist Rahul Kulkarni, arrested for spreading fake news, is indeed guilty of inciting the migrant crisis in Bandra. Also, he was uncooperative with the police and that there was nothing ‘illegal’ about his arrest.