Despite widespread criticism, SFI finds no fault in its ‘protest’ at Asianet News office in Kochi

SFI's VP Sanu defended the actions of his organisation's activists and said that action must be taken against those who ‘scripted’ fake news.

BySreerag PS

Published Mar 04, 2023 | 8:33 PM Updated Mar 04, 2023 | 10:49 PM

SFI holding a 'protest' at the regional office of Asianet News in Kochi. (Supplied)

A case has been registered by Palarivattom police in Kochi against 30 activists of the SFI, the student wing of the ruling CPI(M), following a complaint lodged by Malayalam news channel Asianet News.

A group of SFI activists trespassed into the regional office of the Malayalam news channel on the evening of Friday, 3 March, and intimidated the staff, said the police.

According to the complaint, the SFI activists entered the office at around 8 pm and raised slogans against the news channel after pushing aside the security staff and intimidating its employees, the police said.

The police stated that the reason for the protest was not known. However, the activists have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), and 149 (when more than five persons gather in an unlawful assembly).

SFI’s complaint against Asianet News

SFI claimed that the news channel had “faked” a video interview last year, where a 14-year-old girl was used to publish a fake report about alleged sexual assault of over 10 girl students at a school in northern Kerala.

On Friday, to a question regarding the incident by LDF MLA PV Anwar in the Kerala Assembly, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan responded that the police had received a complaint against the news channel saying that the interview was fake and a POCSO case should be charged against the offenders.

Pinarayi Vijayan informed the Assembly that the police was probing the complaint.

Growing criticism

The incident has been widely criticised by veteran journalists, politicians, and associations of journalists like the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), the Press Council of India and the Press Club of India.

“SFI attack on Asianet News office in Kochi today is a deplorable act without parallel in recent Kerala history,” wrote veteran journalist BRP Bhaskar on Facebook.

Meanwhile, All India Congress Committee General Secretary KC Venugopal called it a “blot on democracy”. The act by the Left-leaning students’ organisation was also criticised by Opposition leader VD Satheesan.

Ernakulam DCC President Mohammed Shiyas reached the Asianet’s regional office soon after the SFI’s protest and condemned the action by the students group.

The KUWJ branded the act by SFI as “hooliganism” and demanded the state government take strict action.

“There have been instances of protests in the past as well over disagreements to a news. But trespassing inside the office of a media organisation and threatening its employees is not protest, it is hooliganism… Kerala, which values ​​democratic values, ​​cannot accept this. Strong legal action should be taken immediately against the culprits,” read a KUWJ statement.

Also Read: SFI leader threatens college principal in Thrissur

Press Club of India demands probe

Criticising SFI’s actions, the Press Club of India urged the Kerala government to launch an investigation into the incident.

“We express concern and lodge our protest over SFI activists reportedly entering the @AsianetNewsML office in Ernakulam and intimidating the staff. These strong-arm tactics have no place in a democracy. The Kerala government should probe this incident swiftly,” the Press Club of India said in a tweet.

No fault in the ‘protest’: SFI

Despite the widespread condemnation of the incident, the SFI has sought to justify its action.

Speaking to South First, SFI National President VP Sanu said the student activists protested against the publishing of false news and found nothing wrong in its action.

When asked about the growing criticism against SFI, Sanu said, “Nobody is taking a stand against the news. Is it like anyone can publish such kind of news? We haven’t barged into the office, we did not even enter the area where people were sitting. There is Asianet’s emblem on the ground floor of the building where the office functions, we raised our banner there.”

Sanu called the news published by Asianet News “wrong” and said that the publishers, including the reporter, should be made defendants in a POCSO case.

“What Asianet News has done is very wrong. Those who published that news, including the reporter, should be made defendants in the POCSO case — a 14-year-old is used for such kind of things. Their only intention is rating. If we would have attacked anyone or uttered a word that was deemed inappropriate, then we could have agreed to the criticism,” he told South First.

Also Read: How CPI(M) displays double standards on liberty, free speech

‘Our right to protest’

“The Press Club of India, KUWJ or Asianet News also have the right to protest against us, but they cannot dictate that we can’t conduct a protest, that is our right. If, tomorrow, Asianet News does a scripted story like this on issues like rape or sex trafficking or murder, can that also be supported? We protested against an institution that has violated all the laws of journalism, which we will continue strongly,” Sanu added.

When South First reminded him of the words of CPI(M) party chief MV Govindan, that the party will introspect if there are any problems with the mode of protest, Sanu said that SFI does not see anything wrong in the protest and there is no reason for introspection.

Although South First tried contacting Asianet News Editor Vinu V John, the calls were unanswered.

(With inputs from PTI)