Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Crime Branch which is yet to make any headway in the Kunduli gang rape and suicide incident seems to be deviating from its course of investigation and using pressure tactics on media by questioning and seeking information about its sources.
On January 25, OTV telecasted a report of the State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) which revealed traces of semen of two persons on the clothes of the Kunduli gang rape victim, who had committed suicide on January 22, 2018.
Keeping in mind the importance of the case, as a responsible media house, OTV telecasted the news.
The news report of OTV put the Crime Branch in the dock as the investigating agency in its report submitted to the National Human Rights Commission had mentioned that ‘no foreign articles’ were found on victim's clothes.
The SFSL later labelled the report shown by OTV as a ‘preliminary inter-divisional report’ and said that it was not ‘the final report.’
Moreover, the Police DG ordered a probe into how the said report came out of the lab.
Now after two months since the whole string of events, the CB officials are putting pressure on OTV journalists to reveal the source of the report which was shown by the television channel.
It seems like the whole objective of the Crime Branch probe into the gang rape and suicide is to know how OTV got the report and what was its source.
To cooperate in the investigation after getting a summon from the Crime Branch, OTV representatives reached the investigating agency's Bhubaneswar-based office only to find the officials asking out of context questions in a bid to harass.
Moreover, it is alleged that the agency tried to elicit information on the day-to-day working of OTV, interfering in the freedom of a news channel.
"Their main question was about the source from where we got the report and in the guise of the question they were trying to get information on various internal matters which were in no way related to the case or the report. What we could feel is that they were trying to harass us," said chief reporter of OTV, Shanti Bhusan Mishra.
OTV's Cuttack Bureau chief, Gautam Panda said, "They wanted to know the source of the report and asked us a slew of questions. They also, in a manner, were forcing us to reveal the source."
Now the questions that arise here are - Can a media house or a journalist be forced to reveal its source? Is it not a shallow attempt to curtail the freedom and functioning of the media? Whether such probe is an attempt to harass the journalists while deviating from the direction of the investigation? Is the Crime Branch taking such a stance by coming under pressure from higher authorities?
"The police are showing urgency not in probing the incident but knowing the source of the report. It's the duty of the media to reveal the truth," said senior journalist Sandeep Sahu.
It's unfortunate if a media house gets harassed for doing its duty and it is a threat to media's freedom, he added.
"If the government, at any place, is trying to put pressure on media in the Kunduli incident then it is reprehensible," said senior journalist, Rajaram Satapathy.
If the investigating agency is crossing its limits in the name of questioning, then it can be assumed that they are doing so to harass media, Satapathy added.
"Media reports are made a part of the investigation but that doesn't mean that media will be brought under investigation and forced to reveal the source of its news," lawyer Dharanidhar Nayak said.
But under any circumstances, one can't force the media to disclose its sources, he added.
Hence, what could be the government's objective in forcing a media house to reveal its source? Under what pressure such an attempt is made to curtail the freedom of journalists?
Crime Branch SP Radhabinod Panigrahi on the other hand denied the harassment allegations and said that they just wanted to know the source of the report.
"As the report was transmitted on media and we just wanted to know the authenticity of the report and the source of leakage. There was no harassment. Police want to ascertain the source of the leakage and for that reason the journalists might have been called by the investigating officer," said Panigarhi.