The arrested journalists alleged that they are being targeted for their anti-establishment stance.

Photos of Dasari Srinivas and Musham Srinivas Dasari Srinivas (L); Musham Srinivas (R)
news Crime Thursday, January 13, 2022 - 19:04

On January 6, at least 40 journalists and content creators running Telugu YouTube news channels were reportedly arrested by the Telangana police, prompting the #SaveJournalism hashtag to trend on social media. The detained reporters alleged that they were subjected to harassment for their extensive coverage during the politically significant Huzurabad bye-election which took place in October last year. The ruling TRS suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of BJP’s Eatala Rajender, former Health Minister who had been sacked by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) from the cabinet over allegations of land encroachments.

The reporters alleged that they were questioned for nearly 12 hours about their ‘anti-KCR’ stance. “Why are you speaking against the government? Why are you so against the Chief Minister? – These were the questions they kept asking,” alleged Musham Srinivas, a reporter at Tolivelugu, a Telugu digital news channel.

According to Srinivas, his coverage of the Huzurabad election led the government to intimidate him and others using state machinery.

“About 4-5 Special Operations Team policemen in plainclothes from Pet Basheerabad came to my room in Madhuranagar [Hyderabad], and without giving any kind of explanation bundled me into a vehicle at around 11.30 am. I was detained without any valid reason for nearly 12 hours. After seizing my phone, they formatted it, which is again totally against the law,” Srinivas alleged.

Recalling the incident, Srinivas said, “It was scary. None of my family members knew my whereabouts. Nobody can distinguish whether the men who descended at my place were goondas or the police.”

He said that the police did not file any case against him and let him go around midnight after reminding him about his actions against the TRS-led government.

Unlike Musham Srinivas, Dasari Srinivas, who runs the YouTube channel Kaloji TV, was booked by the Balanagar police under the Cyberabad Commissionerate. He was arrested under sections – 505 (1) (b) (with intent to cause alarm or fear to public), 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) and 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) – for making critical comments against KCR and his daughter K Kavitha.

Dasari was arrested based on a complaint filed by a TRS activist named Jaligam Rajesh. According to the complainant, Dasari created an atmosphere of panic amongst the public through some of Facebook posts, which were allegedly false – such as Kavitha became a Member of Legislative Council through backdoor politics and that Telangana state was not achieved because KCR went on a fast but because of protesting students. Rajesh cited another Facebook post written on December 9, 2021 in which Dasari referred to the murder of revenue officer Vijaya Reddy, who was set on fire by a man over a land dispute in 2019. Dasari allegedly said that the murder was a result of the digitisation of land records introduced by the TRS government. In his complaint, Rajesh said that these defamatory posts would create panic amongst the people.

“The police want to know my sources, from where I was getting the information about Kavitha’s illegal assets. And regarding why I was so critical of the government. If you see my posts, it is evident that I did not make any personal comments,” Dasari told TNM.

Equipment like cameras, mics, laptops, etc have been seized by the police, essentially making it impossible for him to make videos for his YouTube channel, he said.

G Shivaram and Praveen Reddy, who run the YouTube channels GSR TV Telugu and Right Voice respectively, were also arrested by the Karimnagar police for operating the channels “without permission”. Speaking about his arrest, Shivaram said, “I’m not affiliated with the BJP. I cover all parties, be it the Congress, BJP or TRS.”

The arrested reporters say that they were questioned for nearly 12 hours and then let go.

Speaking about the crackdown, Karimnagar Commissioner of Police V Satyanarayana told TNM, “Individuals, celebrities, officers, public representatives, Prime Minister, Chief Minister, Ministers, MPs are being individually targeted in a very derogatory manner on social media. Posts that promote enmity between groups are being made. This is an offence under the IT Act.”

The Commissioner said that only registered media houses should approach them for any kind of clarification. “Not everyone might have a journalist accreditation card, but please ensure that you carry a journalist pass.”

Speaking about the arrest of Praveen Reddy of Right Voice and Shivaram of GSR TV, the Commissioner said, “They are not registered with any media house. They don’t have accreditation nor do they have the permission of the Information and Public Relations Department.”

The Commissioner said that both the channels made distasteful comments against their political opponents on their thumbnails and taglines.

“They were even targeting police officers. For this we seized their phones and other equipment. They confessed to the crime. Claiming to be a legitimate media outlet, they were employing people and covering every incident before any mainstream media house arrived, and twisting them [the narrative],” Satyanarayana said.

For this offence, the police slapped one case against Right Voice and four cases against GSR TV Telugu. The Commissioner said that the crackdown against channels that make derogatory remarks against public representatives will continue.

All the arrested reporters have been critical of the TRS government. A cursory look at the videos on Kaloji TV, GSR TV and Right Voice indicates their inclination towards the BJP.

Dasari Srinivas in fact co-hosted a show on Kaloji TV about this issue with Teenmar Mallanna, self-proclaimed journalist and vocal critic of the TRS, who is now officially a member of the BJP.

Senior journalist Padmaja Shaw, though observing that spreading propaganda with political motives does not qualify as journalism, questioned the right of the police to curb people from expressing their views. “Under which law are the police asking journalists to stop reporting? Is there a Government Order? Why do journalists need to have accreditation to practise journalism?”

Padmaja expressed fears that the Telangana police’s clampdown on the media will set a precedent that will be followed by other states.

Earlier, talking about Teenmar Mallanna, Padmaja had remarked that his work doesn’t qualify as journalism. “Getting some secret information and sharing it with political motives is not investigative journalism. His work is all agenda-driven. So I do not think that it qualifies as journalism.”

Besides targeting independent reporters, the Telangana police recently also threatened to revoke the passports of Non-Resident Indians who post hateful or defamatory statements. Hyderabad Police Commissioner CV Anand said that the passports and visas of people found to be making hateful posts will be cancelled.

Read our stories about Telangana surveillance here

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