The Centre has directed leading telecom operators to take immediate action against 19 users who sent obscene text messages to journalists Ravish Kumar and Abhisar Sharma, and also said that the companies must take the onus to act against such communication.

The Uttarakhand field office of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology suggested that the operators start a dedicated helpline to receive complaints about obscene and malicious communication.

Several journalists have complained of receiving threatening calls and messages, including explicit pictures, on Twitter and WhatsApp in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.

The letter to the operators was sent on Tuesday by the office of controller of communication accounts in Dehradun to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Reliance Jio, Aircel, MTNL, BSNL, Reliance Communications, Reliance Telecom and Tata Teleservices. The letter cited screenshots of WhatsApp messages and SMSes sent to Kumar and Sharma, and a copy was sent to all state police chiefs and the Centre’s Department of Telecommunications.

The ministry sought a report about the action taken within 15 days, and told the operators that they are responsible for ensuring that their networks are not used for “obscene, malicious and objectionable transmission”. The letter reminded the operators about their licence agreements, which prohibits the use of their network for any obscene content.

Use of telecom networks for such purposes is also a violation of the application forms that customers sign while getting a mobile connection, the ministry said. The ministry noted that vulgar messages have been sent to “many noted public figures namely, Shri Ravish Kumar, Shri Abhisar Sharma, etc”.

A senior official of the department of telecommunications said the field offices are authorised to address problems of telecom customers.

An official who did not want to be identified told that the letter named only two journalists as they had publicly shared evidence of obscene WhatsApp messages along with the numbers of the senders. Evidence shared online by other journalists mostly comprised Twitter posts, and so the senders’ numbers could not be accessed for the purpose of flagging them to telecom operators, the official said.

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