Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra on Monday filed a criminal defamation case against Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary in a court in Delhi for accusing her of plagiarism in her first address in the Lok Sabha on June 25, Bar and Bench reported. The court listed the case for July 20, when it will record Moitra’s statement.
In a statement later, Moitra said it was important that “individuals who make statements that are false to their knowledge be brought to book”. She said she respected freedom of speech but also feared the power of fake news.
In her Lok Sabha speech, which went viral on social media, Moitra had listed “seven signs of fascism”. It was a scathing critique of the Narendra Modi government. A few days later, some of her detractors claimed that she had lifted parts of her speech from a Washington Monthly article from January 2017, written by journalist Martin Longman. The piece, titled “The 12 early warning signs of fascism”, was written in the context of American politics and the election of Donald Trump as president. Longman had written that the signs were listed in the US Holocaust Museum, an attribution Moitra also made in her speech.
Zee TV editor Chaudhary had tweeted the original article to claim that Moitra’s speech was plagiarised. “This is the article from the American website which Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra copied/plagiarised in her speech,” he had said. “She has lifted the words directly from the article. The honour of a Parliamentarian is in danger.”
Moitra dismissed the allegations and said the speech came “from the heart” and blamed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s “troll army” for propagating the charges to shield actual problems. Longman himself said the plagiarism allegation was false.
In court on Monday, Moitra’s advocate Shadaan Farasat submitted that the speech was inspired by a “widely popular” Holocaust poster in a United States museum, Bar and Bench reported. “She takes [seven] signs [of early fascism] and applies them to India,” the advocate said, adding that Moitra had “clearly attributed” her speech to the poster.
In her statement, Moitra said: “It is broadcasts and statements such as that which I have addressed in my criminal complaint for defamation, that taint the beliefs and opinions of the public. In this day and age of 24x7 news channels, without proper fact-checking, and spring boarding of such broadcasts in the minds of the general public, it is all the more important that individuals who make statements that are false to their knowledge be brought to book.”
She added: “It is for this reason that I have chosen to avail of the legal avenues available to me. I have faith in the judiciary, and hope that this attempt of mine create some inroads into addressing fake news. I know that public office brings with it its share of criticism. I am a person who is willing to recognise my mistakes, acknowledge them, and learn from them. However, I solemnly hope that any such criticism of my public service is on account of acts of my own, and not on account of deliberate falsehoods.”