India Today stands by Tanushree Pandey, asks why journalist’s phone tapped

In the audio that was leaked, Tanushree Pandey asks the victim’s brother to shoot a video of the father saying that he is facing pressure from the UP government.
Tanushree Pandey
Tanushree Pandey
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Television news channel India Today on Friday issued a statement after a conversation between its journalist Tanushree Pandey and the Hathras victim’s brother was leaked online and carried in an article by a right-wing organisation. Though the right wing portal accused Pandey of 'coaching' the brother to say that the family is under pressure of the Uttar Pradesh government, many journalists have pointed out that Tanushree asked the brother whether they were pressurised and asked him to send a video of his father, when the brother confirms what she asked. India Today has lashed out against the BJP-ruled government in Uttar Pradesh and has questioned why the phones of journalists reporting on the case and the victim’s brother have been tapped, and why the conversation was released only to pro-establishment news channels. 

Tanushree Pandey has been reporting from Hathras on the death and the subsequent hurried cremation of the 19-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gangraped and strangulated to death by four upper-caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. Visuals put out by her on social media had shown how the cremation of the victim was carried out in the dead of the night and her family, who had been begging for some time to see her and carry out the funeral later, was kept away. 

In the audio that was leaked, Tanushree asks the victim’s brother to shoot a video of the father saying that he has been pressurised by the Uttar Pradesh government to issue a statement that he is satisfied with the probe so far. 

India Today issued a statement on Friday questioning under what law was the conversation recorded by the government. 

“The Uttar Pradesh administration has barred journalists from entering Hathras and is not allowing the victim's family to speak to the media. This evening, the audio of telephone call between the victim's brother, Sandeep, and India Today's reporter, Tanushree Pandey, was leaked on social media, India Today first asks why was the telephone of our reporter, who was covering the Hathras murder, being tapped? If it was Sandeep's phone that was being tapped, then the government needs to answer why are the phones of the grieving victim's family under surveillance or being tapped. And under what provision of law were the phones tapped and call recordings leaked by officials who had access to these recordings,” India Today said in a statement issued on Friday.

“In the telephone call that has been illegally released in public, the India Today reporter is doggedly asking the victim's brother to shoot a video of his father and send it across to her. Persuading a victim's family to speak out in the face of government intimidation and threats is very much a part of what a tenacious journalist must do. The audio has been released with malafide intentions. India Today stands by its reporter. It also demands that the UP government lifts curbs and allows journalists to report from Hathras without fear or favour,” the statement added.

BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya has defended the Uttar Pradesh government, denying that the phone calls are being tapped and claiming that “anyone can record a conversation on their phones.” Many have questioned what gives the government the authority to tap a victim's family's phone. 

As protests broke out against the Uttar Pradesh government across several areas in the country, the Hathras SP and four other police officers were suspended over their handling of the gangrape-murder case. 

Section 144 has been imposed in the village amid Uttar Pradesh government and officials on ground facing massive flak for the investigation into the case so far. 

“In view of the current situation, no political representatives or media personnel would be allowed entry into the village till the SIT (Special Investigation Team) completes its probe,” Hathras Additional Superintendent of Police Prakash Kumar told reporters.

The family of the victim has alleged intimidation and a video of the District Magistrate purportedly asking the victim’s family to ‘reconsider’ their initial gangrape had emerged on social media. The Uttar Pradesh government has been issuing statements that since there was no semen or traces of secretion found on the victim’s body, there has been no instance of rape. However, legal experts have debunked this theory, stating that it is not the only criteria to rule out rape. 

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