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News :: Human Rights
Press freedom in Andhra Pradesh
by Ajit Singh
18 Dec 2006
Press freedom in Andhra Pradesh
There were two unrelated instances last month in Andhra Pradesh concerning media which reflect poorly on the image of the government.
S R Ramanujan
There were two unrelated instances last month in Andhra Pradesh concerning media which reflect poorly on the image of the government.
First, government hospitals in the state became a "No entry" zone for mediapersons. No, there is no bar for their treatment, but they can’t "treat" the hospitals’ ill-health with their exposes. Of course, this has nothing to do with what is going on in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) nor Anbumani’s tantrums in playing the quota politics of his father Dr S Ramadoss. This is purely a "state-grown" initiative.
The state government has issued a GO Rt No. 422 ostensibly to improve the quality of government hospitals and one of the clauses is that the authorities should restrict the entry of pressmen in the hospitals by creating a "Press Room" in the hospitals so that the mediamen are confined to that room instead of snooping into the wards or other areas that may give "meat" to the news stories with all the "festering wounds" of the hospitals.
As reported in the local media, this restriction was imposed because media persons are entering labour rooms and taking photographs (!) and obstructing doctors from performing their duties. So, the GO says "A separate Press Room shall be created in every major hospital in the State. All media should assemble only in this room for any information. Under any circumstances, they should not go inside labour rooms, operation theatres, post-operative wards, ICUs etc. Patients and attendants besides the hospital staff can be interviewed by the Press in this room" (Deccan Chronicle July 30).
If I may take liberty with the famed theory, every reaction will have an action. In this case, the action took place in January this year when a tribal pregnant woman was denied entry into a hospital which bears the name of the great saviour of the poor and downtrodden - Gandhi. Yes, the tribal woman delivered a baby in the front yard of the Gandhi hospital, Secunderabad with the help of her relatives holding a piece of cloth around her when she was in labour pains to provide the minimum privacy. This was the story of the month for regional television channels and for the print media to the great embarrassment of the government which swears by the "Aam Admi".
The chief minister and the health minister were "appalled", "agitated" and "ashamed" over the story, and what comes naturally to them over such shocks is to appoint a committee. The committee, in order to improve the ‘health’ of the hospitals, came out with a series of suggestions and one of the suggestions was to keep the Press at a respectable distance from the hospitals. After all, the problem arises only when the people are made to see the uglier side of the hospitals which in turn affects their health. If they are made to see what the hospitals want them to see, everything will be fine. This must be the ‘noble’ objective of the government in creating "Press Rooms" a la "Labour Rooms" in the hospitals so that the journalists can deliver "healthy stories" for the consumption of the people!
The second instance of scuttled press freedom was, of course, from a different quarter, but well within the control of the government of the day in a way. It is not just the government alone that wants to hide things from media glare. Its appointees in the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) have gone a step ahead in terrorising the mediamen to ensure that the seamier side of the administration like deviation from the Agama sastras, commercialization of the Lord and lackadaisical approach to evangelism on the hills are not given prominence in the media. The temple administration wants the local media to confine itself to the coverage of VIP visits and the fattening of ‘Hundi’ with diamond and gold to sustain its reputation as the world’s richest temple. To understand why and how the TTD officials could act with impunity in taking into illegal custody a media team from Bangalore for three days, we must know a little bit of background of the TTD.
When the conversion controversy broke out maligning the image of the Rajasekara Reddy government, the temple administration got panicky and got into the act by (ab)using the priests of the temple and a section of the employees to carry a delegation to the chief minister and to deny the charges of conversion atop the hills.
It was at this point of time, a Bangalore-based television reporter Om Prakash Agarwal assisted by an AP contact Damodaram Viswanath descended on the scene allegedly to take shots of the "Cross" on some residential doors of the employees and on the trees at Balaji nagar on the hills to nail the denials of temple top brass. In his complaint to the National Human Rights Commission, Agarwal narrates the plight that awaited him at the hands of the Temple Security officials.
According to the complaint, the TTD Vigilance Officer, besides confiscating his camera, mike, channel ID and a bag containing his cloths and cash, manhandled him and his local escort mercilessly. The duo was then taken to the Jt EO, Dharma Reddy where he was allegedly threatened with a loaded pistol to make a confessional statement to the effect that it was he (Agarwal) who painted the "Cross" over the doors and the trees to implicate the TTD. Since the team refused to give such a statement, they were handed over to the Tirumala Police who interrogated them in detention. Finally, they were let off by the Police as they couldn’t find credible evidence to support Dharma Reddy’s theory.
Besides the highhanded behaviour of the TTD to protect the interests of the ruling party in the state which was at the receiving end of the conversion controversy, what was deplorable was the role of the local media that looked the other way. When Agarwal and Damodar were produced before the local media by Reddy & Co, the media simply reported the official version without making even a feeble attempt to know what Agarwal had to say on the episode, especially when he was paraded before them.
When the duo was in illegal detention of the TTD for three full days, there was none to stand by them. Was it because they were representing a channel (Delhi-based Sudarshan TV) that had neither viewership nor clout? In contrast, one is reminded of the brouhaha the CNN-IBN made for days together when its team was attacked and the vehicle burnt in Lucknow by political thugs.
The moral is: " Show me the channel and we‘ll tell you what press freedom is!"
Contact: s_ramanujan9 (at) yahoo.co.in
Harassement and Torture by TTD Vigilance and Officials
REPORT OF SRI OM PRAKASH AGARWAL TO THE SUDHARSHAN TV
[ The following is a report of Sr Om Prakash Agarwal, Southern Coordinator of Sudharshan TV, sent to the authorities of the Sudharshan TV, regarding the harassement and torture by TTD Vigilance and Officials meted out to him and a Hindu social worker who went to Tirupati-Tirumalai to investigate about the Christian conversion and propaganda activities in the areas belonging to the most ancient Hindu temple where preaching and practice of any other religion is banned by law. The Christian employees in the service of Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam, emboldened by the clandestine support of the Andhra Government headed by a Christian Chief Minister, had the guts to lay their hands on a Hindu media person and subject him to inhuman torture. The video cassttes seized from him have not been returned to him though he was let off. The Udupi Pejawar Mutt Peedaatheeswar, Sri Vishwesa Teertha, had appointed a fact finding committee consisting of a retired High Court Judge, a retired Director General of Police of Andhra and a retired Vice-Chancellor had come out earlier with startling revelations of Christian activities in Tirumala Tirupath and sadhus and sants headed by the Udupi Peedaatheeswar had also demonstrated in front of the TTD Office and held a massive conference in Tirupathi to protest against the Christian activities. The media persons went there to find for themselves the true story and the man-handling of the media persons amounts to violation of press rights as well as human rights. The awakened Hindus, Hindu leaders and religous heads must strongly condemn this high-handedness, demand an enquiry and punishment of the guilty.The video discs seized from the reporter should also be returned to him. We appeal to Hindu leaders and religious heads to take up this matter with all seriousness.--Sadhu Prof. V. Rangarajan]
I would like to bring to your kind notice that, I, Omprakash Agarwal, working as a Reporter and South India Co-ordinator in your Esteemed Channel was Harassed and Tortured by TTD officials on 30th July to 1st August 2006.
Sir, I went to Tirupathi after consultation with Senior Executives and your goodself to cover a program on Christian Religious Propoganda in Tirupathi-Tirumala for our Channel based on reports from various leading dailies of South India (ie. Vijay Karnataka, Samyukata Karnataka, Indian Express and many more print and electornic media). I also took tips from the Report of the "Fact Finding Committe" deputed by Pejawar Math Swami Sri Vishweshwar Thirtha Swamiji to probe into the affairs.
Sir, As you are aware I went to Tirupathi on 29th to Cover the Episode, I made some coverage in local Tirupathi area on 29th and on 30th Morning, I went to Tirumala Hills to cover the program with a local escort by name Damodaran aged 20-22 Years, who was familiar with local language and place. Damodaran had arranged a vehicle to take me to Tirumala. We first went to the Foothills known as Alipiri around 10:45 A.M (30th July), We reached Tirumala around 12:20 P.M and I got down near Krishna-Arjun park at the entrance of Tirumala to take few shots of some shops selling Cross and other items. Based on information received, I left for Papavinasham where there were reports of conversions taking place. We searched all the place in Papavinasham but could not gather any information, later we left for a place called as Balaji Nagar on the outskirsts of Tirumala. We enquired from various sources on the route to Balaji Nagar, as it was in news for propogation and other religious activities. At around 3 P.M, we entered Balaji Nagar searching for houses conducting Sunday prayers, Balaji Nagar is a very large Residential area which houses to about 1,000 - 2000, but almost after1 hour search we could not trace anything, We continued our search and finally around 4: 15 P.M, we came across a few houses where Cross marks were put outside the houses. We immediatley stopped our vehicle and I took video shots of 2-3 houses. After taking shots we went futher to enquire if there were any Christian families in the locality. The residents denied saying that there were no one there, When we were just talking to the ladies, two people came to us and enquired who we were. I said I am a reporter and he is my escort from Tirupathi. They did not believe us. They alleged that we only painted the cross and were shooting, They caught hold of us and within fraction of second over 60 people had gathered at the venue and harmed us physically. They took away our belongings containing our Handycam, Mini Dvs, Mike set, Channel (ID) Logo, & Bag containing clothes and cash. After a few moments The Vigilance department Officials of TTD arrived, They too harmed us and snatched away our mobile phone and took into custody all our belongings. Later they took us to the Vigilance Office led by NAGU REDDY ( V.C.O) in Tirumala and beat me and my escort Damodaran. After sometime we were taken to Joint Executive Officer Shri Dharma Reddy, there also we were beaten with sticks and were booted by this Nagu Reddy (Vigilance officer), his assistants (Murthy and others) and Dharma Reddy. Later they began to see our Video footage which we had covered. We had taken a few shots of shops in Tirumala selling Cross items. The Vigilance Officer asked me to accompany to pin point the shop where it was sold. They took me in a high secuity vehicle as a criminal to the shop. I pin pointed the shop from where Cross was sold. The shop keeper was bought to the Vigilance office and he was made to say by the Executive officer and Vigilance officer that it was I who gave him to cross to sell it. That shop keeper too was threatened to tell lies as he too was at their mercy. We were shocked seeing this behaviour of the officials who were all there to fabricate cases against us for shooting this in Tirumala. I protested and pleaded to the executive officer to show the Tape once again so that I could explain him. I pinpointed that all the products in the shop keepers premises had same company brand packing. Rather than accepting the mistake, he immediately asked his men to delete this portion of shots from the Video Dv's. The Torture continued till late night and they were forcing us to confess that we belonged to some organisaition or have been sent by some agent to blaspheme Tirupathi-Tirumala. Vigilance Officer had gone to the extent of threathening us with a loaded PISTOL to confess, otherwise he would get us killed in an ecounter declaring us as ISI Agents, Terrorists, or Naxalites. But by the grace of God and intervention by the Sub-ordinates, it did not work out. Before that they had invited all the Media persons both from the print and electronic media at the vigilance office and paraded us, and gave a one sided press note to them without allowing us to speak with the media men.
At around 2:00 A.M on 31st morning, we were sent to II Town Police Station in Tirumala. The Sub Inspector interrogated us and we apprised him about all the events which took place and placed all the facts before him. After giving our statement, he provided us some place to sleep and said he will come back in the morning. On 31st Morning at 8:00 A.M, DSP of Tirumala Shri. Satyanarayana had come to the station to interrogate us, he interrogated for around 1/2 an hour and left the place. Again around 1:30 P.M, we were shifted to DSP Office and there we were interrogated by the Superitendent of Police Shri Gopal Krishna. We put all facts before him. He was convinced by it and he openly expressed in the presence of other officials that we were INNOCENT. Later he made arrangements for Lunch for both of us. Later in the evening the Police Officials had a meeting with the TTD officials and there they had decided to release us. At Around 9 P.M, the Police Department arranged for a VIP Darshan at the temple and they later asked us to write a statement at the Tirumala II Town Police Station.
Two Sub-Inspectors took our statements and after completing, we were requested to leave the place. The S I said it was already 12: 00 A.M and it was not safe to leave at that time. He said that we could leave in the morning.
We were forced to spend one more night in Police Station and we anxiously waited for the dawn. Next day morning the Sub Inspector arrived around 7 A.M (1st August 2006) and we asked his permission to leave. He said he would consult the Supdt of Police and only after that we could leave the place.
When the S I spoke to S P, he refused stating that "there is pressure from Higher officials not to let you, as we need to interrogate both of them". It was frustrating moments for us, in the meanwhile our friends from other media on hearing our news had come all the way from Bangalore to bail us out. My escort was taken to SP office in Tirupathi and there he was interrogated by the Crime Police. That went on upto 7 in the evening. At around 9 P.M the S.I said that I could leave for Bangalore. I was bought down by a constable who escorted me upto Tirupathi.
The SI asked us to leave for Bangalore, he also sent his constable along with us to Bangalore. Next morning we reached our house and the constable accompained me till my house, He left after he took an undertaking from my mother stating that I have reached Bangalore safely.
Sir, I did not understand why there was a conspiracy to fabricate us in false cases. Is it just because we had collected some information and video shots of some incidents in Tirumala which are already popular with other Media.
I will not be surprised, if they may cook and fabricate some more cases against me to suppress some more facts. THE CONSPIRACY HAS BEEN EXPOSED.
A) Is it not an Attack on freedom of Press?
B) Is it not human rights violation to beat brutally with sticks and kick with boots?
C) Is it not a Conpiracy to Implicate us in False Charges?
D) Is it not a violation of press rights to Seize Press Material?
E) Is it not human right violation to issue Threat to our Lives?
If it is so, then what for is the Right to Information Act ?
SOUTH INDIA COORIDNATIOR
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