The Uttar Pradesh Police on Wednesday registered a first information report against the editor of news website The Wire for spreading fake news against Chief Minister Adityanath.
The FIR was filed based on the complaint of Nitish Kumar Shrivastav, a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. In his complaint, Shrivastav said: “The Wire editor on his blog, with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message: ‘On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.”
The complainant said this amounted to “an objectionable comment” against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath, “which has caused anger among people”. The FIR did not name the editor.
The complaint was probably referring to The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan, who had posted an article published on the site on Twitter on Tuesday, March 31. In the tweet, he wrongly attributed the quote that “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus” to Adityanath.
On Wednesday morning, Mrityunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Adityanath, asked Varadarajan to delete the tweet, saying the chief minister had not made any such statement. He warned that action would be taken against him and a defamation case would be filed.
By afternoon, Varadarajan posted a clarification saying the quote was from Acharya Paramhans, the head of the Ayodhya temple trust, not from Adityanath. A correction was made to The Wire’s article.
The FIR was filed in Faizabad at 7 pm. In his complaint, Shrivastav cited the corrected statement from The Wire article.
An hour and half later, Adityanath’s media advisor said on Twitter that action had been taken against Varadarajan since he had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised. “If you too are thinking of spreading lies about the Yogi government, please remove such thoughts from your mind,” Kumar tweeted.
The action came a day after the Centre had urged the Supreme Court to bar media outlets from printing, publishing or telecasting any information about Covid-19 without ascertaining facts with the government. The top court had refused to interfere with “free discussion” about the pandemic, but directed the media to “refer to and publish” the official version about the developments.
Late on Wednesday, The Wire tweeted out a statement saying that the FIR was a “blatant attack on the freedom of the press” and was “aimed at stifling legitimate expression and factual information”.
The Uttar Pradesh police, it added, “seems to think its job is to go after those who criticise” the chief minister.