Offices of the Asianet News channel in Kerala's Kozhikode were searched by the police on Sunday, the media company said, two days after members of the student wing of the state's ruling party took on the network over a news report that claimed the sexual abuse of some schoolgirls in connection with a drugs case.
A senior police officer, who was leading the team that arrived at the Kozhikode office, later told reporters here that the "search" was carried out as part of the investigation in the case. "No documents have been taken," the officer said, according to news agency PTI.
“Police is currently raiding Asianet News office in Kozhikode in a fabricated case. This follows SFI's disruptive activity at our Kochi office yesterday. Attempt to browbeat us would fail. We're taking legal action and stand with our team as it exposes every wrongdoing across the spectrum,” Rajesh Karlra, chairman of the network, tweeted.
Asianet managing editor Manoj Das said that the searches were an "intimidation" attempt. "They took control of our edit suite, asked to review all files on the system, and kept asking where fake news was recorded," he said.
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar slammed the Pinarayi Vijayan government and shared a video of the police action on Twitter.
So @pinarayivijayan facing serious corruptn charges n questns from media thinks he can wriggle out n distract ppl by intimidatng media using his SFI hoodlums n thn his Police 😂🤷🏻♂️ #Jokerhttps://t.co/FFjLoJvas2— Rajeev Chandrasekhar 🇮🇳 (@Rajeev_GoI) March 5, 2023
According to news reports, the case registered by the police is based on a complaint filed by a politician alleging that an interview done by the channel of a schoolgirl who was allegedly forced to work as a drug courier was fake.
On Friday, a group of demonstrators with the Students' Federation of India (SFI) allegedly forced their way into the office of the Malayalam news channel in Kozhikode and threatened the staff over the news report, the police said.
A case was registered against around 30 activists of the SFI, the student wing of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), based on a complaint lodged by the TV channel.
According to the complaint, the SFI activists allegedly entered the office around 8 pm, raising slogans against the news channel after pushing aside the security staff and intimidating its employees, the police said.
CPI(M) sources on Saturday alleged that there was a complaint against the news channel for creating “fake news” using a minor girl about the alleged sexual assault of over 10 girl students at a school in northern Kerala.
Sources in the SFI Ernakulam District Committee sought to justify the action by claiming that the student outfit organised the march to the Kochi office of the media house in protest against "fake news" run by it.
The news channel had run the story as part of its programme last year on the drug menace in the state.
Criticising the SFI action, the Press Club of India urged the Kerala government to launch an investigation into the incident, news agency PTI reported.
"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 on Friday.
Congress leader VD Satheesan said the latest police action was "a sign of intolerance against protests, criticism or questioning of those in power" and it has been on a rise in the state.
The Leader of the Opposition said such actions indicate that there is no difference between the Narendra Modi government at the centre and the Pinarayi Vijayan regime in Kerala.
Mr Satheesan also referred to Mr Vijayan as the 'mundu (dhoti) wearing Modi'. He said that while Prime Minister Modi used the income Tax Department to raid the BBC, the Kerala Chief Minister used the crime branch wing of the police to search the Asianet News office.
BJP's Kerala unit president K Surendran said the search at the Asianet News office was "an example of the fascist approach" of the state government towards the media.