A day after Odisha police picked up a journalist employed with Odisha Television Ltd (OTV) from near his residence in Bhubaneswar in connection with a viral video case, opposition leaders from BJP and Congress decried the action calling it a case of political vendetta. Editor’s guild of India has also condemned the police action, calling it an act of “harassment” of OTV.
On Thursday, Ramesh Rath, a senior reporter with OTV in Bhubaneswar was summoned by a team of police from Keonjhar district over his alleged involvement in a 2019 case of obscene viral video allegedly involving a female BJD MP.
The police team took away the journalist’s mobile phone and later went to the OTV office in the city to confiscate his workstation in connection with the investigation of the viral video case.
Rath was later released and asked to report to a police station in Keonjhar district on October 21. However, a team of police from Keonjhar as well as Bhubaneswar commissionerate was deployed inside the OTV office campus since Thursday.
Leader of the Opposition in the Odisha assembly and BJP leader Pradipta Naik said the action smacked of intolerance. “Media has a big role to play in a healthy democracy. However, the present trend of intolerance by the government against the media in our state was never seen before. OTV which is highlighting the loopholes of the government is being targeted. This is a blatant misuse of power by a dictatorial regime and it seems the whole machinery is against the media house for breaking stories that do not favour the government. They should have the patience to tolerate the criticism and accordingly correct its course if the media brings its drawbacks to the fore,” said Naik.
Similarly, BJP MLA from Paralakhemundi, K Narayana Rao said the TV channel was being targeted at the direction of CM Naveen Patnaik. Senior Congress MLA Sura Routray also slammed the CM for harassing OTV.
The editors guild of India, too, expressed its dismay over police action against OTV reporter saying it threatened as well as undermined the independent functioning of the media organisation.
The case, in which the OTV reporter was picked up, dates back to April last year, when five persons including a web portal journalist were arrested over their alleged involvement in uploading an obscene video on social media platforms alleged to be that of a female BJD MP. The video had gone viral just before last year’s Lok Sabha polls. Police had registered a case under section 292-A, 354-A, 500, 509, 465, 469, 120-B, 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 66D, 67 and 67-A of Information Technology Act, 2000 and Representation of Peoples Act.
The BJD MP said OTV owner Jagi Mangat Panda and her husband and BJP leader Baijayant Jay Panda had no valid reason to call police action on Rath an attack on OTV and its journalists.
“I am an unmarried lady who has been mentally harassed and tortured by OTV reporters and others who had made a morphed, obscene video of mine viral on social media with a malicious intent to defame, harass and mentally torture me. If a daughter from your family was in my place and her morphed obscene video had gone viral, would you have saved a man like OTV reporter Ramesh Rath, who had perpetuated it? As a tribal lady, my honour and dignity were defamed in public. When will I get justice,” she asked.
Keonjhar SP Mitrabhanu Mohapatra said the name of OTV journalist who was picked up yesterday had come up during the investigation of the case last year. “When we examined his ex-colleague who was arrested in the cases, we got more information about the involvement of Ramesh Rath and that’s why he was picked up. We are doing the investigation as per CrPC procedures. We have filed a charge sheet in the case against those who were already arrested and kept the investigation in the case open,” said the SP.
OTV’s chief operating officer Litisha Mangat said the TV channel was being harassed for the last 3 months, ever since it broke the story of alleged corruption in the Odisha government’s handling of Covid funds.
“Baseless allegations and FIRs are being filed. The senior journalist was picked up without any notice or warrant. We have been co-operative towards investigation but if they’re going to attack our journalists and our office without any reason, we should not be taken advantage of. We refused to let them search or ransack our office without any grounds.
He refused to say anything about the viral video case stating that the law should take its own course in the matter.